Should I keep my dental insurance when I retire?

A patient pulled me aside last week to let me know that they were planning to retire soon, and that their employer had given them the option of continuing the same level of dental insurance coverage, but at an additional cost.  He was unsure of whether this would represent a good value during his retirement years.

Many, many people “retire” their dental plan as they leave their careers in their 50s and 60s, often after one last “blitz” of dental procedures while they’re still partially covered under their insurance plan.

The fundamental belief here is that one’s oral health is a static entity that doesn’t change over time, and that if everything can be “fixed” prior to retirement, they won’t have anything more to pay for in the later half of life.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and here’s why:

 1. Your oral health needs increase with age
 As you age, your teeth and gums age and wear as well.  Your teeth don’t know that you’re retired!  Did you know that the great majority of extensive and complex procedures we do are in patients over age 50?

  • Fillings, crowns, and bridges wear, chip, and loosen. Teeth that are heavily filled or broken down require more complex and costly procedures to restore.
  • Teeth get more brittle and cracked over time, with the great majority of broken teeth occurring after age 50.
  • If teeth are lost due to wear and tear or damage, their replacement becomes more complex and costly in the older patient.
  • Due to changes in blood flow, hormones, gum and bone contour, and oral hygiene ability, your gum health is increasingly likely to develop problems, and many seniors need more (not fewer) dental hygiene visits than they did earlier in life in order to keep their teeth.
  • Your risk of tooth decay increases as your salivary flow slows down.
  • Your risk for oral soft tissue diseases (including oral cancer) increases with age.

 2. Your dental care costs increase with age
 If your investment in dental care were plotted over time, the curve would steepen toward the last 1/3 of life

Many of our patients find that they spend as much or more during their retirement on their teeth than they did while working.  It is very common to have to replace older, failing dental work or perform more complex dental procedures such as implants or full mouth reconstructions.

3. Your lifestyle is more important to you than ever before
We hear every day from patients how important it is that they participate in activities with their grandchildren, enjoy travel, stay active in the garden and outdoors, and enjoy good food.  Maintenance of excellent oral health is a large part of full-body health.  The ability to efficiently chew whole grains, coarse vegetables, and other whole, unprocessed foods is extremely important in the maintenance of proper nutrition and health.  Losing teeth is a major impediment to this ability, and to one’s self-confidence in social situations.

For the reasons above, we encourage our patients to plan for an ongoing dental care investment throughout retirement.  That said, our practice focus remains on preventing problems later in life, so you can count on us to be proactive in educating you about any problems we see developing.