“I can’t remember the last time I went to the dentist,” said Charlie, a retired automotive engineer. “I’ve always had pretty good luck with my teeth, so I don’t expect anything will go wrong.” Charlie is one of the roughly 70 percent of older adults without dental insurance in this country. His mindset is a pretty common, though shadowed, one around our responsibility to keep up with dental health. It’s also reflective of the feeling of helplessness when prospective dental costs seem overwhelming, other expenses always seem to take priority, and we are unaware of low-cost dental care options for older adults in the Bay Area.
If you find yourself struggling to piece together dental care services, know that you’re not alone. It can feel frustrating and isolating when we seem to have no options through the channels of insurance and regulated healthcare that dominate our medical community. When Medicare and other health institutions leave dental coverage out of the list of benefits for older adults, it’s easy to give into thinking our oral health is a secondary consideration—and one that we can set aside when cost is prohibitive.
Even Without Insurance, Older Adults Have Access to Dental Care in the Bay Area
While it’s unfortunate that dental services aren’t more of a priority through insurance, it’s important to know that there are options available to us (including some options at low or no cost). It’s also critical that we make choices to follow the path of care that will serve our health best—and that include careful oral and dental attention. Organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area have, indeed, mobilized to serve this need. Our options for dental care are not as limited as they seem, but it is up to us to reach out, to ask for help, to meet those generous Bay Area providers who are ready to reach back and serve.
The following is a guide to help you assess your current situation and existing resources, and then pursue the additional resources that will complete your dental care plan. The path to that comprehensive plan will vary from person to person because it depends very much on income and personal circumstances. But using this guide, you’ll likely find there are many accessible resources available to you in the Bay Area.
Determine What Dental Services Are Available to You Right Now
First, it may be that you do, in fact, have some type of dental insurance coverage you don’t know about. While having dental insurance is a significant factor in seeking care, some older adults don’t make use of that coverage because they aren’t aware of what is covered or how to access these services.
So the first step is to explore multiple channels through which you could have insurance coverage. Even if you are aware of your insurance coverage, it’s good to occasionally review your benefits on a regular basis because coverage can change. Whether online or over the phone with an insurance representative, seek answers to questions about your personal account benefits. How many hygiene visits can you claim each year? What is your share of the cost for preventive, basic restorative, and major restorative care?
To determine your current dental care coverage, start by asking these questions:
- Do I have dental coverage with my current insurance?
If you have health insurance coverage through an employer or your spouse’s employer, call the human resources or benefits department to determine whether dental coverage is included and who the insurance provider is. You can then call the insurance provider directly and ask to speak with a benefits representative who can access your account and review the actual benefits covered by your plan. If you do have dental benefits and you don’t yet have a dentist, be sure to ask the representative how you should go about locating a care provider who accepts your insurance plan.
- Do I have dental coverage with Medicaid?
Dental services are covered through Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid. If you have Medi-Cal and have not been taking advantage of any dental health resources, it’s time to reach out to Denti-Cal, which now offers dental benefits for adults as well as children. Call to speak with a Denti-Cal representative today, take note of the benefits that are available to you, and ask how you can find a dentist who accepts your form of insurance.
– Phone: (800) 322-6384
– Website: Denti-Cal Referral List
- Do I have dental coverage with Medicare?
If your only form of insurance is through Medicare, you are ineligible for covered dental benefits. But you are not without options! Move onto the next section of this guide to discover your resources for low-cost dental care services in the Bay Area.
Bay Area Dental Care Options for Older Adults Without Insurance
Even though the impersonal system of insurance products can seem like a restrictive wall, there are caring and compassionate people dedicated to supporting you and your dental health directly. Feel free to reach out to any or all of these organizations. The accessibility of these services is not guaranteed but considered on a case-by-case basis. Take your dental health responsibility in stride and start conversations with representatives from these organizations to discover which is available and best for your personal care plan.
- Discount Dental Plans for Older Adults in California
One option is to shop for an independent dental plan, pay reasonable premiums each month, and then receive steep discounts on the dental treatment you need. Often, these plans come with routine hygiene appointments included at no additional cost to you. However, the dentists who accept this kind of insurance are limited, so it’s important to do your research and look ahead to actually using this insurance option before you purchase.
DentalPlans.com is a marketplace for alternative dental insurance plans, and you can search options specific to your location. By investigating multiple plans, you can compare their premiums and cost-sharing structures, the procedures they cover, and the maximum dollar amount they will cover each year. Especially if you have some sense of the specific procedures you will need in the coming year, you can compare plans with those particular treatment benefits in mind. Before deciding on a plan, be sure there are providers who accept that plan in your area. You can even reach out to the specific provider to address any questions that come up as you shop around.
- Low-Cost Dental Care for Older Adults in the Bay Area
If you find that a dental plan is not the right option for you, it’s time to turn toward your Bay Area options for low-cost or no-cost dental care. The California Dental Association (CDA) offers a clinic locator tool on their website so you can uncover low-cost dental clinics near you.
A lot of these clinics offer services on a sliding cost scale based on your income, but their costs and services can vary, so it’s important to get in touch with a range of clinics near you for details. The CDA’s online tool will point you to addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation. In addition to calling the offices directly, you can search the name of the clinic online and possibly get more information on their websites.
Another option is to seek care through local dental schools at a lower cost than the same services in traditional dental offices. And you may be able to work out a payment plan as well, so you don’t have to pay all of your costs up front. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and University of the Pacific are a couple of avenues to explore:
-Address: 155 Fifth St. (Minna St. entrance), San Francisco
-Phone: (415) 929-6501
Consistent daily attention to your dental hygiene is important, but it cannot take the place of professional care and treatment. As the prominent gateway into the body, the mouth is intimately linked to your body’s overall health. While dental care may be more difficult to access than general health insurance and treatment, it isn’t impossible—and in the Bay Area, we have many low-cost options even without insurance.
Whether you’re an older adult or a caregiver seeking dental services on behalf of an aging adult, don’t let the obstacles discourage you from pursuing the care and attention your body deserves. These small steps toward a complete care plan are about so much more because your dental well-being is an integral part of your overall health.
For further guidance in accessing the dental and medical resources available for you in the Bay Area, reach out to us at Institute on Aging. We strive to help connect older adults with support networks and services for healthy living.