Why Dental Coverage Matters When Shopping for a Medicare Plan

With the annual enrollment period for Medicare opening on Oct. 15, those eligible for Medicare (or their family members) should consider the importance of plans that include dental coverage.

A growing body of research shows routine dental checkups can improve overall health and reduce chances of life-threatening medical conditions like heart disease and cancer. Consider these findings:

The Mayo Clinic reports that improper oral healthcare can raise the risk for certain cancers, infected heart linings, pneumonia, eating disorders, and arthritis.

According to the American Dental Association, evidence suggests oral bacteria could be linked to heart disease, arterial blockages, and strokes.

The National Institutes of Health connects chronic gum disease to poorer blood-sugar control in diabetics.

Despite the links between dental care and overall health and wellness, nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries – roughly 24 million people – lacked dental coverage in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The same research found almost half of all Medicare beneficiaries (47%) did not have an annual dental visit, with higher rates among Medicare beneficiaries who are Black (68%) or Hispanic (61%), or those who have low incomes (73%).

In an effort to improve these statistics, a growing number of Medicare plans include dental coverage. Capital Blue Cross, for example, provides routine dental coverage and an annual allowance of up to $2,000 for comprehensive dental services, including dentures, through its BlueJourney Medicare plans.

Having and using dental coverage can do much more than just brighten your smile. It can also help keep you out of the hospital.

A 2019 study funded partly by Capital Blue Cross showed higher rates of hospitalizations and emergency department visits for people who did not, or could not, access preventive dental services. The study found people with chronic conditions but no dental coverage had a 7% higher incidence rate of inpatient hospital stays than those who had dental coverage and received a preventive dental service. Those who had dental coverage but did not use it to receive preventive services had a 19% higher rate of emergency department visits than those with dental coverage who received preventive services.

The bottom line: Having and using dental coverage can help avoid costly hospital and ER visits.

While picking the right Medicare Advantage plan involves several factors – such as premiums, level of coverage, or provider network access – the inclusion of dental benefits is an important consideration, too. Routine visits to a dentist can help keep you healthy and avoid costly medical procedures later on, making dental coverage good for your health and your finances.