Retirees, Create a Plan to Pay for Dental Care

When she needed dental work recently, Terry O'Brien, age 76, didn't worry too much about the cost, at least initially. After all, she was paying $36 a month for an individual dental insurance plan, with up to $1,000 in coverage. But her problems far exceeded that cap. After forking over more than $2,000 out of pocket for a root canal and crown replacement, she decided to look for an alternative to her insurance.

"After the dentist x-rayed my teeth, he said I'd need another root canal and two more crowns," says O'Brien, of Pelham, N.H. "I said, 'Never mind. They're not bothering me, and I don't have the money.' "

O'Brien's dilemma isn't unusual for seniors trying to take care of their teeth. Often, after a lifetime of employer-sponsored dental coverage, some retirees don't realize the costs doesn't include dental coverage. About half of all Medicare Advantage plans do, but the coverage is typically limited to basic cleanings and x-rays and generally includes an annual cap of about $1,500. You'll most likely pay out of pocket for larger procedures such as root canals, says Judith Jones, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry and an expert on geriatric dental care.

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