The older we get, the more likely we are to develop certain health issues, dental-related ones included. Even if you're lucky enough to avoid problems, you'll still need routine dental care throughout retirement. And if you're counting on Medicare to cover your dental services, you're out of luck. Right up there with vision care and hearing aids, routine dental care is one of those things that isn't covered by Medicare. Though you can purchase a separate insurance plan to get dental coverage, you can't rely on Medicare itself.

The cost of dental care in retirement

Healthcare is the one expense that tends to universally rise for seniors once they stop working, and dental care is no exception. In fact, the average 65-year-old male today will spend roughly $8,800 on out-of-pocket dental costs in retirement, while the typical 65-year-old woman will spend more like $9,800. (Keep in mind that women tend to live longer than men, which helps explain this gap.)

Senior male in dental chair


Why such hefty numbers? Much of it boils down to the fact that Medicare won't cover any sort of routine dental service or procedure, such as cleaning, fillings, X-rays, and extractions. It also won't pay for the cost of dentures -- something many seniors inevitably need.

That said, there are a few dental services Medicare will cover, but they're all related to other health issues. For example, if you're injured and need emergency surgery to fix your jaw or face, you'll typically be covered under Part A. Furthermore, if you need an oral exam prior to a medical procedure, such as a kidney transplant, Medicare should cover it. Keep in mind, however, that while Medicare might pay for some initial dental treatments that are considered non-routine, it often won't cover any associated follow-up visits.

On the other hand, if you experience complications following a routine dental visit or procedure, you may get some help from Medicare in covering the cost of addressing them. For example, if you have a tooth extracted and develop an infection afterward that requires hospitalization, Medicare will generally pay for that treatment because it's a medical issue. But as a general rule, the only dental services Medicare will cover are the ones you don't want in the first place.

Managing your dental expenses as a senior

Just as Medicare won't cover routine dental services in retirement, neither will Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance). What you can do, however, is purchase a Medicare Advantage plan, since many offer dental coverage in additional to other benefits that traditional Medicare doesn't provide.

Another option to consider in retirement is a dental insurance policy -- the same sort you'd get during your working years. Keep in mind, however, that if you're enrolled in Medicare, you can't purchase a dental plan from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

If you find that the cost of a dental insurance plan is prohibitive, then something else to look at is a dental savings plan. Dental savings plans offer discounts on common dental services, and can save you a chunk of money depending on how much you use them. Finally, there's also the option to receive care at a local dental school, where students work with patients in a supervised setting.

If you're worried about affording dental care in retirement, you're not alone. That's why it's crucial to not only figure out what you're going to do for coverage, but to save extra during your working years so that you're not squeezed for cash if your expenses end up coming in higher than expected. Furthermore, it pays to read up on the various services Medicare will and will not cover. This way, you'll know what costs to plan for before you're stuck actually having to pay those bills.

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