As people grow older, teeth can wear down and weaken the way other bones throughout the body do, with seniors being at greater risk for tooth decay and gum disease. A whole 92 percent of seniors 65 and older have dental caries (decay) in their permanent teeth. Dentures are an option to replace some or all teeth in order to maintain a pleasant quality of life through appearance, eating, and comfort. They may be made of resin, porcelain, acrylic and/or metal, and may be removable or permanent implants.
Removable partial dentures are attached to natural teeth with clasps, with costs starting as low as $300, averaging $700 to $1800, and reaching as high as $4000 for gold, as opposed to acrylic or other metal. Partial dentures have the downside of possibly cracking or breaking, and because gums shrink over time, the fit may worsen. A poor fit will be uncomfortable and can allow food particles to become trapped beneath the piece, creating a risk of infection. Temporary solutions for missing or damaged teeth such as removable dentures or bridges may cost less than permanent implants, but the quality reflects that cost, and they require greater upkeep and maintenance in the long run.
An alternative option is to consider implants to support permanent dentures. In order to place implants, the teeth must first be removed, at least in the areas where the dentures are to be fitted. Extractions can cost $75 to $300 per tooth, ranging higher with the type of anesthetic needed. The procedure can be done with either local or general anesthetic, depending on how many teeth must be removed, and may require a followup visit to remove the sutures and ensure the extractions site is healing cleanly. The process will require a healing period of 6 to 8 weeks after extraction and a return visit to place a false root of titanium in the jaw, which will fuse to the bone to create a solid base for the permanent denture plate. Finally, the dentures are installed, which fit snugly against the gums and have the look and feel of natural teeth. Additional healing typically takes 3 to 6 months, and in some cases up to a year.
Though Medicare may cover extractions in a few specific cases, it doesn’t cover other dental needs. Regular dental insurance typically has a $1000 maximum spending limit for the year, after which all costs must be paid out of pocket. Though some or all of the cost of partial dentures may be covered, permanent dentures are often billed as a cosmetic procedure not covered by insurance. Dental implants can range from $3,000 to $30,000 depending on the type and number. And a full set of upper and lower implants and dentures can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $90,000.
Though Medicare and personal insurance can be limiting, there are other options to defray the daunting costs of dentures. Dental schools offer procedures at a discounted rate under the supervision of experienced practitioners, but they have certain requirements for patients they will accept, long waiting lists, and limited openings. Dental tourism is another option, with providers charging less outside major U.S. cities and in other countries, but finding a reliable surgeon requires thorough research.
Dental discount programs provide another affordable option that will work independently or in conjunction with existing insurance and Medicare without interfering with either. Dental discount programs work like a grocery store membership card, offering discounts of 15 to 50 percent for procedures with thousands of participating providers across the country. There are no annual limits, and only low monthly or annual premiums, a simple online application, and quick turnaround to activate. The discount dental programs do not have limits based on age or preexisting conditions, making quality dental care more affordable for everyone.