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Affordable Dental Coverage Gives Older Adults a Reason to Smile

(StatePoint) Maintaining your health and vitality as you age includes taking care of your mouth. Neglecting dental health can make you susceptible to gum disease, lead to poor nutrition, put you at risk for infections, and even impact your emotional well-being.

Yet, many older adults aren’t receiving proper oral care. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that more than one in five Medicare beneficiaries have not visited a dentist in five years, primarily because of cost.

Many people lose their dental coverage when they retire. Fortunately, affordable options are available, according to Dr. J.B. Sobel, chief medical officer with Cigna Healthcare™ Medicare business.

“While Original Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans include everything in Original Medicare and more,” Sobel said. “Many MA plans include some dental coverage, often at no extra cost. Some plans will allow you to see any provider of your choosing, while others require you to use providers within a certain network. Some MA plans even provide no-cost transportation to the dentist.”

Once you have access to dental care, there are compelling reasons to take advantage of it, according to Dr. Cary Sun, chief dental officer with Cigna Dental and Vision, including the following:

Preventing gum disease and other oral health issues.

Forgoing recommended routine teeth cleanings can increase the risk for cavities, gum disease, infection, and swelling of the gums (gingivitis). This can escalate into problems like tooth loss and the need for root canals or crowns, costing thousands of dollars. If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes, gum disease can also put you at greater risk of infection, as bacteria can enter the bloodstream through poor oral hygiene. Therefore, it’s important to get regular cleanings with your dentist, to brush your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste, and to floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. An electric toothbrush or water flosser may make brushing and flossing easier.

Addressing dry mouth.

Many older adults take multiple medications. This can result in a condition called “dry mouth,” which can make it hard to chew, swallow or even talk. Dry mouth can also raise the risk of tooth decay and oral infections. A dentist can help you address this with saliva substitutes or lifestyle changes, such as sipping water and reducing or avoiding tobacco, caffeine and alcohol.

Facilitating good nutrition.

Proper nutrition is important for everyone, but particularly for older adults. A healthy mouth makes it easier for you to eat well and enjoy food, while gum disease or ill-fitting dentures can make it hard to chew. If you’re having difficulty eating for any reason, your dentist may be able to help you.

Screening for certain cancers.

Cancers of the mouth are more common in older adults. As with all cancers, early detection is critical to effective treatment. An annual oral cancer examination can help detect early signs.

Maintaining your confidence.

Having healthy teeth boosts confidence and fosters better communication. You may be more likely to go out, stay active, and meet and interact with new people when you’re proud of your smile.

To find MA plans offered in your area, visit Medicare.gov. For information on Cigna Healthcare plans, go to CignaMedicareInformation.com.

“The case for maintaining your dental health is clear and convincing,” Dr. Sun said. “Once you’re covered by Medicare, secure dental insurance coverage and see your dentist as recommended to maintain your overall health. Through regular preventive care, you may even be able to avoid more costly and serious procedures later. It’s never too late to get started on a path toward better oral hygiene.”

 

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