Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with any advertisers on this site.
Fifty-one percent of adults ages 50 to 64 don't know how they'll get dental insurance once they reach age 65, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) from the University of Michigan
The survey, which included a nationally representative group of 1,066 middle-aged adults, also found that only 41 percent of participants felt they had very good or excellent oral health, and more than a quarter had delayed or skipped needed dental care in the past two years. Of those, 69 percent said the cost of dental care was a major barrier.
These findings are concerning, says Erica Solway, associate director of the NPHA. "People may not have good oral health going into their older years," she notes. "The likelihood that they'll have serious problems in the future is much higher if they're not getting the preventive care that they need."
Solway says many people don't realize that Medicare does not cover routine dental care. So for some, retirement may mean the end of being able to pay for a dentist.
Yet the older people get, the more susceptible they become to periodontal disease, or gum disease, says Jay W. Friedman, an expert on dental public health and an adviser to Consumer Reports.
Poor oral health can also take an emotional toll. The survey found that one-third of people 50 to 64 feel embarrassed by the appearance of their teeth.
Here, tips for keeping your teeth healthy as you age.
Practice good oral hygiene
To keep your mouth healthy:
●Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, rinsing thoroughly after brushing.
●Floss regularly to remove food particles between teeth.
●Avoid sugary foods and drinks, which can promote tooth decay. Drinking plain water is best.
●If you struggle with dry mouth, which can increase your risk of tooth decay, try increasing your production of saliva by using sugar-free chewing gum or eating hard candy with xylitol, a natural sweetener that has fewer calories than sugar. Ask your doctor whether any of your medications might be contributing to a dry mouth.
●And if you don't already get your teeth checked once a year, do so. Routine care can help prevent significant issues down the road. "If people do end up having dental problems, some of them can be very expensive to treat," Solway says.
Learn about coverage
If you're working, you may be able to get coverage through your job. Your employer may also offer a retirement health plan that includes dental care. Some health plans available through the Affordable Care Act marketplace also include dental coverage. And veterans can buy dental insurance at a reduced cost.
Other options include dental savings plans and dental health maintenance organizations, or DHMOs. In a dental savings plan, you'll pay an annual fee in exchange for discounts of up to 50 percent at many dental offices across the country. In a DHMO, you pay an annual fee in exchange for regular checkups and cleanings from participating dentists, and receive discounts on more-complicated procedures.
You'll probably want to skip buying private dental insurance plans, our experts say, because these are often very expensive and may not cover procedures such as root canals and crowns.
Find low-cost care
Look up rates of many dental procedures in your local area using tools such as Fair Health Consumer (fairhealthconsumer.org) or Healthcare Bluebook (healthcarebluebook.com). Then ask your dentist for a comparable price.
Your local health department or community health center may also offer low-cost care. Tooth Wisdom (toothwisdom.org) can help you find these services, or you can call your health department.
And if there's a dental school in your area, you may be able to get discounted care from dental students.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Read more at ConsumerReports.org.