Will This Health Expense Bust Your Retirement Budget? It’s unavoidable — and potentially very costly.

Source: Maurie Backman/ The Motley Fool

It’s no secret that medical care is a huge burden for retirees on a fixed income. And while many seniors fear that a single hospital stay could be enough to drive them into bankruptcy, there’s another expense that could end up putting their retirement at risk: dental care.

Though dental care is a clear necessity for working Americans and seniors alike, older folks need to be even more vigilant about maintaining proper oral health and getting ahead of issues before they escalate. The problem, however, is that many lack insurance that will pay for it.

While Medicare will cover health expenses like hospital stays, doctor visits, and prescription drugs, it does not cover dental care for seniors. As such, nearly 70% of Medicare enrollees have no dental coverage at all, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. And not shockingly, half go without seeing a dentist.

Among seniors who do spend money on dental care, it’s enough to seriously eat into their budgets. In 2016, the average Medicare beneficiary spent $922 on out-of-pocket dental costs. And you can bet that number was higher for folks who experienced major oral health issues, or needed specialty dental services. Case in point: The cost of a ceramic or porcelain crown can cost up to $2,000 for patients who lack dental insurance.

If you’re a senior who’s struggling to afford dental care, or a soon-to-be retiree who’s nervous about this impending expense, know that there are a few things you can do to ease the burden.

1. Sign up for Medicare Advantage

Medical Advantage is an alternative to original Medicare that offers one major benefit over it: dental coverage. The great thing about Medicare Advantage is that your plan must provide at least the same amount of coverage as original Medicare, and in many cases, you’ll get a lot more. There are numerous Advantage plans to choose from, so you’ll need to read up on your choices and find the plan that’s best for you.

2. Get dental insurance

Much of the time, supplemental insurance for Medicare won’t actually cover dental services, so buying it won’t help in this particular regard. What you can do, however, is purchase separate dental coverage, the cost of which will depend on the plan you select.

3. Understand your dental coverage

Whether you buy dental insurance independently or get coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan, it’s crucial that you take the time to understand your benefits. This will help you determine how much of your costs you’re responsible for, keeping in mind that you might be on the hook for a deductible on top of your office copays. At the same time, be sure to stick to dentists who actually take your plan. Opting for an out-of-network provider could leave you liable for the entire cost of your treatment, even if you have coverage in place.

4. Never hesitate to negotiate or get a second opinion

Some dentists are more aggressive in their treatment plans than others. If your oral health professional recommends a costly procedure, it pays to get a second opinion before resigning yourself to a whopping bill. At the same time, it never hurts to negotiate the cost of your dental treatment, especially if you’re without insurance. Some dental offices will work with you to make your care more affordable.

5. Boost your savings before retiring

If you’re already retired, this advice won’t apply. But if you’re at the tail end of your career, pushing yourself to stay in the workforce a little bit longer could allow you to pad your nest egg, thereby giving you access to additional income that can be used to cover your dental care as a senior, or whatever other medical bills come your way. Similarly, if you’re not already on Medicare and have a high-deductible health insurance plan through your job, it pays to see if you’re eligible to fund a health savings account. Doing so will give you an extra source of income to tap once you’re retired and those dental bills start piling up.

Dental care is a necessity at every stage of life, but it could become a huge budget-buster in retirement. Take the above steps to make your care more manageable so that you’re not tempted to skimp on dental services and put your oral health at risk.

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