As a senior, living on a fixed income in Southwest Washington can be challenging. In 2023, rent was up 28.3% since 2020 and food was up by 11.3% since December of 2021.[1] Plus, with age, seniors need to make more visits to their doctors and dentists, which means higher healthcare bills. Is there affordable dental care for seniors? This article looks at the importance of oral health and how providers like Humana Medicare and United Healthcare Medicare can help. Although navigating the landscape of senior dental care can be intimidating, doing so will empower you with the knowledge to make informed dental decisions.

Understanding Senior Dental Health

Common Oral Health Concerns Among Seniors

Getting older isn’t just hard on the body, it’s hard on your teeth and gums as well. While tooth decay can occur at any age, it can be more prevalent in seniors because of conditions such as dry mouth and receding gums.

Dry mouth reduces the amount of saliva you have in your mouth, which can make you more prone to cavities as saliva keeps harmful bacteria in check.[2] And because seniors tend to suffer from receding gums, the exposed area – the root of the tooth – becomes more susceptible to cavities.

Gum disease is also common in seniors. Many seniors suffer from gingivitis, which is when plaque and tartar accumulate in the mouth and inflame the gums. Gingivitis can be a result of a weakened immune system, dry mouth, and neglecting your oral health.

Tooth loss is a concern among seniors, too. Tooth loss can occur due to gum disease, injury, or a decrease in bone density. Although tooth loss may not seem like a big deal, it can impact how you eat and communicate.

How Aging Affects Oral Health

As we age, our bones become less dense, we experience hair loss, and our vision deteriorates. These are not the only changes. An additional change is that our bodies produce less saliva. This condition – as mentioned above – is called dry mouth or “xerostomia.”[3]

According to the American Dental Association, roughly a quarter of male seniors over the age of 65 get dry mouth and roughly a third of female seniors over the age of 65 get dry mouth.[4] Dry mouth may be caused by medications, medical conditions, or lifestyle choices like smoking.

Aging increases the risk of getting oral cancer as well. In fact, patients over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing demographic with oral cancer.[5] And the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that more than 50% of patients with oral cancer are age 60 and above. For this reason, regular oral screenings and senior dental check-ups in Vancouver WA are crucial.

Why Regular Dental Check-ups and Preventative Care Are Important

What do the above statistics mean for seniors in Vancouver, Washington? First and foremost, it means regular dental check-ups and preventive care are crucial. At Ranieu Family Dental, our dental team can identify early signs of gum disease, tooth decay, and oral cancer. We can then be proactive before these conditions become more serious.

Getting senior dental check-ups in Southwest WA means getting regular fluoride treatments, dental sealants, and professional cleanings. Our dentists can also ensure that seniors maintain their oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing their teeth daily.

Does this sound costly? It isn’t. Regular dental check-ups don’t have to be expensive especially since they fall under preventive care. Let’s look at dental insurance for seniors provided by Humana Medicare and United Healthcare Medicare.

Humana Medicare Dental Coverage Vancouver WA

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Humana Medicare Plans and Coverage Options for Seniors

Humana Medicare offers a range of options for seniors. There are several types of Medicare plans. These include:

• Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part C: Medicare Part C covers Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medical Part B (medical insurance).

• Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D): This helps cover the cost of medications.

• Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) Plans: This is for patients who wish to keep their Original Medicare plan instead of moving over to a Medicare Advantage plan. this plan helps cover out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments and deductibles.

When you choose a Medicare Advantage plan at Humana, you will automatically receive routine dental and vision coverage.

Patients can also choose the Optional Supplemental Benefit plan which offers greater dental and vision coverage.

In addition to these coverage options, Humana has a section on its website with support services to help seniors choose the right plans.

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Humana Medicare Plans and Coverage Options for Seniors

Humana Medicare offers a range of options for seniors. There are several types of Medicare plans. These include:

• Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part C: Medicare Part C covers Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medical Part B (medical insurance).

• Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D): This helps cover the cost of medications.

• Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) Plans: This is for patients who wish to keep their Original Medicare plan instead of moving over to a Medicare Advantage plan. this plan helps cover out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments and deductibles.

When you choose a Medicare Advantage plan at Humana, you will automatically receive routine dental and vision coverage.

Patients can also choose the Optional Supplemental Benefit plan which offers greater dental and vision coverage.

In addition to these coverage options, Humana has a section on its website with support services to help seniors choose the right plans.

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Humana Medicare Advantage Plans: Dental Benefits Explained

When you choose a Humana Medicare Advantage plan, dental benefits are included. These benefits include: • An annual exam • Two free cleanings every year • A dental X-ray once every five years Since Original Medicare doesn’t cover dental care, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for your dental services. For this reason, it’s worth it for seniors to switch over to a Medicare Advantage Plan. With a Medicare Advantage Plan, you will have to pay a monthly premium for dental services, but you’ll have lower out-of-cost fees. Here are 10 Humana Medicare Plans in the Vancouver, WA area: • HumanaChoice (PPO) • Humana Gold Plus (HMO) • Humana Value Plus (HMO) • Humana Gold Plus (HMO) – Maximum out-of-pocket is $7,000 • Humana Gold Plus (HMO) – Maximum out-of-pocket is $2,900 • HumanaChoice (PPO) • Humana USAA Honor (PPO) • Humana USAA Honor (PPO) • Humana Gold Plus SNP-DE (HMO D-SNP) • Humana Gold Plus – Diabetes (HMO C-SNP) For all the Medicare Plans above, a routine dental exam is included.
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Additional Dental Services Covered by Select Humana Medicare Plans

If you think you’ll need additional dental services, Humana offers supplemental dental insurance. Humana’s supplemental dental plans cover the following:

  • Exams
  • Fillings
  • Teeth cleanings
  • X-rays
  • Dentures and crowns
  • Anesthesia

This supplemental dental plan is offered in addition to your Medicare Advantage plan when you enroll. The supplemental dental plans include:

  • MyOption Dental High PPO
  • MyOption Enhanced Dental PPO
  • MyOption Enhanced Dental HMO
  • MyOption Platinum Dental
  • MyOption Dental Enriched HMO
  • MyOption Dental Enriched PPO
  • MyOption Total Dental HMO
  • MyOption Total Dental PPO
  • MyOption Enhanced Dental Plus HMO
  • MyOption Total Dental Plus HMO

For the most updated information about coverage, reach out to the insurance provider directly.

Dental Benefits of United Healthcare Medicare

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United Healthcare Medicare Plans Available to Seniors in Vancouver, WA

United Healthcare also offers affordable dental care for seniors. Patients with United Healthcare’s medicare plans in Vancouver don’t get billed for deductibles, copays, or coinsurance. They only get billed for Medicare Part D prescription copays.

Seniors can get comprehensive coverage through United Healthcare’s Medicare Advantage plan. The following are offered in Clark County:

  • Medicare Advantage Plan 1 (HMO-POS)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 2 (HMO-POS)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 3 (HMO-POS)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 1 (HMO)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 2 (HMO)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 3 (HMO)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 1 (PPO)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 2 (PPO)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan 3 (PPO) 
HMO-POS and HMO are ideal if you can get all the health services you need in-network. If your doctor or dentist is outside the network or you prefer to have choices outside the network, then United Healthcare’s PPOs are a better choice. Moreover, patients have the choice of PFFS Medicare Advantage Plans. These are for seniors who prefer to see specialists without a referral. Seniors can also choose to keep their Original Medicare coverage and add a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan (Medigap) to cover additional out-of-pocket costs.
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United Healthcare Medicare Advantage Plans: the Dental Benefits Offered

The type of dental benefits you receive will depend on which Medicare Advantage plan you select. However, there is basic coverage that extends across all Medicare Advantage plans. These preventative and comprehensive dental services include:

  • Routine cleanings
  • Fillings for cavities
  • Fluoride treatments

Restorative and emergency dental procedures include:

  • Crowns
  • Root canals
  • Extractions
  • Dentures

Each plan has different dental details, so it’s important to look carefully at what’s included. For the most updated information about coverage, reach out to the insurance provider directly.

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Optional Dental Rider Plans

If you need additional dental benefits beyond the basic benefits offered by the United Healthcare Medicare Advantage plans, there is the Platinum Dental Rider plan. For an additional fee of $39, you get the following:

• 100% coverage for preventative and diagnostic care, such as routine cleanings, X-rays, and oral exams
• 80% coverage for common dental procedures, such as fillings and filling restorations
• 50% coverage for major restorative services, such as crowns, dentures, root canals, and oral surgery
• $100 annual deductible (this is the amount you pay before your plan kicks in and covers the rest)
• $1,000 maximum (this is the maximum the plan will pay for your services in a calendar year)
• Nationwide coverage
• You can see any dentist you choose

Note that the Platinum Dental Rider Plan can be purchased at any time of the year. Some preventative services include two fluoride treatments a year, two cleanings a year, one procedure of inlays and outlays every five years, one crown procedure every five years, and more.

Reach out to United Healthcare for the most updated information on the Platinum Dental Rider Plan.

Oral Cancer Awareness for Seniors

The Risk Factors of Oral Cancer in Seniors

As we get older, we are at an increased risk of getting oral cancer. And though oral cancer can affect people of any age, seniors have accumulated more years of bad dietary and lifestyle habits.

What exactly makes a person more at risk of developing oral cancer though?

• Tobacco Use: The risk of getting oral cancer is much higher for people who smoke than for non-smokers. Seniors who have been smoking for 40+ years have had a much longer exposure to tobacco than those in their forties. This buildup of tobacco in their lungs and oral cavities contributes to this higher risk.

• Alcohol Use: Like tobacco use, heavy alcohol use can increase your risk of getting oral cancer. People who combine tobacco and alcohol use are 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer than people who don’t drink and smoke.[6]

• Genetic Factors: Some people may be more likely to develop oral cancer if they inherit mutations in certain genes. Fanconi anemia, for instance, is an inherited condition. People with this syndrome have a higher risk of developing head and neck cancer.[6]

• Age: As mentioned, getting older makes people more likely to develop oral cancer. Because oral cancers take years to develop, they become evident later in life.

The Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Symptoms of oral cancer can vary from person to person, and the location of the cancer can differ. Mouth cancer can occur on the lips, the inner cheeks, under the tongue, and the roof of the mouth; while throat cancer occurs in the back of the throat. Some symptoms of oral cancer include:[7]

• Lip sores that don’t heal within two weeks
• Crusty areas on your tongue or inner cheeks
• White or gray patches in your mouth or throat (leukoplakia)
• Red patches in your mouth or throat (erythroplakia)
• Sores on your inner cheeks that don’t heal
• Difficulty swallowing or chewing
• Difficulty and pain moving your jaws

Why Early Detection Is Important

It may be easy to ignore a patch or crusty area on your inner cheek, but dentists won’t. For this reason, regular oral cancer screenings are crucial. Dentists can detect the signs of oral cancer early and take proactive steps to treat it.

If our dental office detects early signs of oral cancer, we will immediately refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist here in Vancouver, WA. Besides our initial physical examination, you will get a scrape biopsy at an ENT office so your cells can be examined further.

The stages of oral cancer are:

• T1: The tumor measures 2 centimeters or less
• T2: The tumor measures between 2-4 centimeters
• T3: The tumor is larger than 4 centimeters

If dentists and specialists catch oral cancer at the T1 stage, your chances of surviving are much higher.

Because seniors are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer, it’s important to find a WA dental office for seniors that can incorporate oral cancer screenings with your routine check-ups.

Community Organizations and Senior Centers: A Collaboration to Promote Awareness

Senior centers are often in the dark when it comes to ensuring their clients get regular oral cancer screenings. That’s why community organizations need to work with senior centers and other senior organizations to provide resources and education.

How can this be achieved?

  • Educate seniors about the symptoms so they can recognize if they have any
  • Emphasize regular screenings
  • Offer free seminars and events
  • Educate seniors on low-cost screenings in Clark County
  • Provide resources on affordable dental care for seniors that provide screenings
  • Encourage seniors to ask their dental office about oral cancer screenings

In Southwest, WA, seniors can find several resources. The best resource is your local dental clinic. Dental offices, like ours, can provide a wealth of information on oral cancer screenings and routine dental check-ups.

Seniors can also contact the American Cancer Society (ACS) for information and resources. The ACS CARES (Community Access to Resources, Education, and Support), for example, is a good place to start. This program is nationwide.

Finally, through the City of Vancouver, seniors can find a list of senior resources in Clark County, WA.

Tips for Maintaining Senior Dental Health

Here are some tips to maintain your oral health if you are a senior:

• Brush and Floss Daily: Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. At least once a day – preferably right before bed – floss in between your teeth and right underneath the gumline where the teeth hit the gums. Brushing your teeth and flossing daily will prevent bacteria and plaque from building up in your mouth.

• Eat Healthily: Since seniors are more prone to cavities, try to avoid sugary foods as well as acidic foods and beverages.

• Quit Smoking or Quit Using Tobacco: If you haven’t done so already, quit smoking and quit using all tobacco products. Smoking tobacco can accelerate your risk of getting oral and lung cancer, so the sooner you quit, the better off you are.

• Cut Down on Alcohol Consumption: Try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol tends to dry out the mouth, which can aggravate the dry mouth condition you may already have.

• Know the Side Effects of Your Medication: Seniors tend to need more and more medication. Make sure you’re aware of all the side effects of the medication you’re taking as some side effects could negatively affect your oral health.

• Stay Informed: Try to stay on top of any oral health news for seniors. The AARP magazine, for example, offers lots of advice on age-related issues for seniors.

Dry Mouth

If you have dry mouth, drink plenty of water throughout the day. You can also chew sugar-free gum to help keep your mouth moist. Try to avoid alcohol because – as mentioned above – it can aggravate the conditions of dry mouth.

Dentures

If you wear dentures, clean them daily to prevent getting an oral infection. To clean them, use a denture cleaner or mild soap. After cleaning them, soak the dentures in a denture solution or water overnight.

Sensitive Teeth

Many seniors start to suffer from sensitive teeth. Switch to a toothpaste like Sensodyne. Sensodyne has the ingredient stannous fluoride which builds a layer over your exposed dentine.

Try to avoid very hot, cold, or acidic foods and beverages. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush as they are less likely to irritate your teeth and your gums.

Why Regular Dental Visits Are Important

At Ranieu Family Dental, we can’t stress enough the importance of regular dental visits. When we perform a routine check-up twice a year, we offer preventive care. This can reduce (and even eliminate) dental problems.

Our dental office believes in a proactive approach. We catch small issues early before they balloon into something far more significant. We also give oral cancer screenings as part of our periodontal assessment dental exam. We provide an oral cancer screening of all the tissues in your mouth as well as full mouth radiographs. The radiographs evaluate your bones and teeth.

In addition, you’ll get X-rays so we can check if there is any tooth decay, faulty restorations, or broken teeth. We check your dental/facial balance as well as your bite and joint function. The latter lets us know if there is any wear on your teeth.

Community Resources for Senior Dental Health and Oral Cancer Awareness

If you are a senior in Vancouver, here are some resources for accessing affordable dental care, getting oral cancer screenings, or even finding help enrolling in Medicare.

Seniors can use the available resources to educate themselves, ask questions, and stay on top of their health.

Senior Dental Check-ups in Vancouver WA

Seniors in Vancouver, Washington, face a higher risk of many diseases and conditions, including oral cancer. To ensure oral health, it’s critical to get routine dental check-ups and oral cancer screenings. Dental insurance for seniors, specifically Medicare Advantage plans, can provide routine dental care at affordable prices.

Seniors should schedule a dental appointment at Ranieu Family Dental to receive personalized care and support. Besides assessments, we also offer tips on how to take care of your oral health. Our goal is to provide affordable dental care for seniors here in Clark County. We can help maintain your healthy smile, detect issues early, and ensure you have excellent oral health.

To find out more about our services, contact our dental office today.

References:

[1] https://www.columbian.com/news/2023/mar/19/the-price-of-inflation-in-clark-county/
[2] https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-08/DryMouth&OlderAdults-508.pdf
[3] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000951.htm
[4] https://www.assistinghands-il-wi.com/blog/solutions-for-dry-mouth-in-seniors/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8984992/
[6] https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
[7] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11184-oral-cancer

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