Dental Care for Seniors

Article | October 2016

Dental Care for Seniors

Find out how to maintain your dental health as you age, including how to deal with dry mouth, gum disease, and finding affordable dental care.

Today’s older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer. We can thank scientific developments and the dental industry’s emphasis on preventive care. With good habits and dental care, you can keep smiling through your golden years. Keep reading for more tips and information.

What dental concerns should I be aware of as I get older?

People of all ages can get cavities. But seniors have some special dental challenges, including:1

  • Higher risk of developing decay around older teeth
  • Greater risk of decay of the tooth root itself, if the gum tissue has receded
  • More and faster plaque build up
  • Daily dental hygiene habits can be tricky if you have mobility, dexterity, or vision challenges
  • Dental care can be harder to access if you have medical or behavioral conditions that get in your way

What are some dental health tips for seniors?

  • Don’t skip routine dental check-ups. Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and oral exams.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking or chewing tobacco increases your risk of gum disease.
  • Do brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Do clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
  • Do replace your toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. A worn toothbrush won't do a good job of cleaning your teeth.
  • Do watch your diet. Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks.

What about gum disease?

Your gum disease risk rises as you get older. If you have toothaches or bleeding gums, you don't have to put up with them. Talk to your dentist—there are treatments that can help.1

Can I ignore dry mouth?

Dry mouth1 is commonly caused by side effects from medications. But it can also be the first sign of a health problem or disease. Talk with your dentist if you have dry mouth.

What if I don’t have my natural teeth anymore?

Good dental hygiene and regular dental visits are important no matter your age. Even if you don't have your natural teeth anymore, you should still see your dentist regularly. He or she will check for problems with your gums, tongue, and jaw. Your dentist will also screen for oral cancer symptoms.

Do I have to pay for dental care if I’m on Medicare?

Some types of Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) include coverage for basic dental care. Basic dental care includes things like teeth cleanings, routine X-rays, extractions, fillings, and possibly more, depending on the plan. What you pay toward your Medicare plan, may vary, though.

But even if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan that covers basic or routine dental care, it typically will not cover you for major dental bills, such as root canals, implants, gum grafts, etc. This is even more reason to try and maintain your oral health as you age.

How can I find affordable dental care for seniors?

The out-of-pocket costs for major dental procedures can be significant. There may be affordable dental care for older adults, depending on your situation. Try these tips:

  • Comparison shop: If you need an expensive dental procedure, shop around. Costs may vary significantly between dentists in your area
  • Consider buying a standalone dental plan: Standalone dental plans offer many options for coverage, possibly even to cover major dental care. Monthly premiums are often affordable.
  • Ask your dentist about a payment plan: Many providers may be able to offer you a payment plan, so you spread out the cost of a dental procedure over monthly payments.
  • Contact a local dental school: If you have a dental school in your area, it may offer some low or no-cost care to the community. Dental students have a chance to get experience, and you may have a chance to get some affordable dental care.
  • Contact your state health department: They may have information on where to find low-cost dental care in your area.
Senior woman getting dental work

Source: The Dental Care Shortfall for Older Adults, AARP, September 26, 2018, https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/older-adults-dental-care-costs.html

1American Dental Association. Aging and Dental Health. Updated July 2, 2019. http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/aging-and-dental-health

This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing and care recommendations.