Most Medicare Beneficiaries Lack Dental Coverage, Which Puts Overall Health at Risk

March 18, 2019

New research produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) revealed some eye-opening facts about the nearly 60 million Medicare beneficiaries and their overall lack of dental insurance coverage.

According to KFF, 65 percent of Medicare beneficiaries (nearly 37 million people) do not have any dental coverage.1

Woman looks at dental xrays with her dentist

Medicare beneficiaries and dental care

Some of the key findings of the KFF study include:

  • Almost half of Medicare beneficiaries did not visit a dentist in the past year.

  • Of the beneficiaries who did visit a dentist in the last year, 19 percent paid more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket dental costs.

  • 15 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have no natural teeth.

Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) does not provide coverage for routine dental care. Because of this, many Medicare beneficiaries may choose to join a Medicare Advantage plan (Medicare Part C) that includes dental benefits.

Some Medicare beneficiaries may also decide to buy a separate dental policy or pay entirely out of pocket for their dental care.

Why dental care is important for your health

When Medicare beneficiaries forego dental care, they may be putting more than just their teeth at risk.

Numerous studies have found and confirmed direct connections between oral health and overall health.2 Just a few of the complications that can be associated with poor dental hygiene include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Respiratory disease
  • Dementia
  • Chronic pain
  • Infections
  • Cancer
  • Erectile dysfunction

Your mouth is full of bacteria, most of which is harmless when proper dental care is practiced. But when oral health is compromised, so too is the mouth’s ability to serve as a gatekeeper to the rest of the body.

A weakened level of oral health can mean more harmful bacteria is able to pass through and enter the body, leading to other health complications.   

Unhealthy teeth can also make it harder to eat a nutritious diet, as chewing fruits or meat can become difficult with weakened teeth. This can lead to increasingly poor diet choices, which in turn can factor into multiple other health concerns.

Poor dental health can also lead to social anxiety and isolation because of feelings of embarrassment when speaking or smiling.

Medicare beneficiaries may want to consider their dental coverage options in order to help ensure their overall health is protected.

 

1 Freed, Meredith; Neuman, Tricia; Jacobson, Gretchen. Drilling Down on Dental Coverage and Costs for Medicare Beneficiaries. (March 13, 2019) Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/drilling-down-on-dental-coverage-and-costs-for-medicare-beneficiaries.

2 Woodham, Chai. Mind Your Mouth: How Oral Health Affects Overall Health. (Dec. 22, 2014). U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/12/22/mind-your-mouth-how-oral-health-affects-overall-health.