You can add one more expense to the balance sheets of seniors living on a fixed income: Routine dental care!
Contrary to popular belief, Medicare does not pay for things like cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures and more.
That's because dental health was not included in the original Medicare bill. "Now, with 10,000 people retiring a day, suddenly people began to say, 'Wait a minute, this is not what I expected,'" Oral Health America president and CEO Beth Truett told USA TODAY.
So what can you do to reduce the cost of dental care if you're on Medicare? Try these techniques.
First, decide if buying your own dental insurance makes sense
Select Medicare Advantage managed-care plans do offer dental benefits. So that's worth exploring. Truett also points out that both United Concordia and United Health have some senior plans. Just know that there are caps and they typically won't cover much of the expensive periodontal needs of seniors, like implants. Choose wisely!
Consider medical tourism for big jobs
If you need some really expensive surgery, it can often be cheaper to go out of the country for the job. Hungary and Costa Rica, in particular, are hot spots for cheap reconstructive dental procedures. The savings can be extraordinary--up to 75%. If you are considering going overseas for a procedure, check first with the Joint Commission International to see which facilities are fully accredited.
Go to a chain dentist practice for lower costs
Dentistry is undergoing changes that will bring both positives and challenges to the marketplace for years to come. One trend that looks set to shape the future is the rise of chain dentistry practices. Great Expression Dental Centers is just one example of this. This chain has about 240 offices nationwide and employees 2,300 people.
What does a chain dentist office mean to you as a consumer? In theory, if you go to a chain, there would be efficiencies in overhead, what are called economies of scale. But the problem is what’s the care like? Who's accountable? Do you see the same person each time or does nobody know your dental history? So the advantage of these chains is lower prices. But sometimes you can’t focus on price alone. This is a decision you'll have to make for yourself.
Look for savings by scheduling care during off-peak times
If you can find a dentist who caters to baby boomers, ask if you can save money by filling in the empty appointments on their books that would otherwise go unfilled.
Forbes reports one dentist they checked with offers his clients who are 60 or older a $99 flat price for all regular cleanings and an extra 10% off other services if they come in for mid-day appointments.
Call around to dentists in your area and see if they offer similar deals.
Ask about warranties on repairs
Dentists want to encourage repeat business, especially among older clientele who may be cash payers. To do that, some will offer warranties on all work as long as you keep up with your regularly scheduled cleanings.
Don't overlook the importance of home care
Brushing twice a day and flossing daily is a solid formula for keeping your teeth healthy as you age. Another great strategy is to get an electric or ultrasonic toothbrush to clean your teeth more effectively at home.
Check out the daily deal sites for discounts
People are turning to daily deal sites for select medical procedures in the absence of health care coverage. Groupon, LivingSocial and their various imitators are one possible new source for finding deals on a variety of dental, eye care and medical care services. But note this well: This is not a replacement for insurance. But if you're historically gone for teeth cleanings twice a year, and now you can't recall the last one because of your fixed income, this may be something to consider. If you can score a deal, take it!
How do you know if you will get quality care from a particular doctor on a daily deal site? Check sites like Yelp.com and Kudzu.com that post general consumer reviews, and ones that are dedicated to medical reviews exclusively like RateMDs.com.
Consider donating your mouth to science!
Much like going to a beauty school for a cheap haircut, the idea here is you go to a dental school and let dental students get practice hours on your teeth -- under the watchful eye of faculty members, of course! Search for either accredited dental schools or a dental hygiene program. Then give them a call and find out how to start the process!
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