April 10, 2017

Is Your Mouth Ready for Retirement?


by Gretchen Gibson, DDS, MPH, Veterans Health Administration Central Office (VHACO)

This newsletter segment is not necessarily written for your patients, but more for your “future patients” and even you and your family. Retirement planning is a process that is supposed to start long before they day you leave your job for the last time. Planning is the key word.

When this is discussed, it evolves around making sure there are adequate funds that any retirement benefits are in place that any wills or trusts are in place; that debt is taken care of as much as possible; and that you have adequate resources to take you through retirement years.

What is often not thought about are planning for issues of health, and in this case, issues regarding oral health. The average age for retirement is now around 63. Most everyone knows that dental benefits are often acquired through insurance programs through employment. When retirement begins, these benefits end. Many people do not know that Medicare does not cover dental benefits, except in very extreme cases. There has been some suggestion that dental benefits be added to Medicare Part B, but this is by no means a given and most likely a long time off, if at all. There is the possibility of private coverage in retirement, but this needs to be well thought out, to make sure the benefits will meet your needs. One website, http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/dental-care-concerns/paying-for-dental-care, takes you through some questions and answers regarding dental care and what you may require in the way of dental benefits. However, just like planning for fiscal retirement, it is in your best interest to plan for dental health in retirement as well. Putting off extensive work till after retirement may not be wise if you have not planned for the full cost in your budget.

A great amount of research has shown that a healthy mouth is beneficial for a healthy quality of life. Eating, smiling and verbal interaction are key parts to a happy retirement and you need to do this pain free and comfortably. A frank discussion with your dentist is appropriate as you think about your date of retirement to discuss the change in your dental benefits and how best to approach this. This also brings up an important point regarding continuing dental care after retirement. Many people will put off preventive or maintenance dental care due to the cost. However, it is wise to consider the cost of repair versus the cost of maintenance.

As we age, there are factors that can increase the risk of dental disease, such as increased risk for dry mouth and issues associated with other systemic diseases. Discuss with your dentist what should be the most appropriate length of time between recall or preventive visits, based on your individual situation. Your dentist will take into account how well you can keep your teeth clean at home, how much dental treatment you currently have and how easy it is for you to maintain that.  As with any disease process, the earlier that a problem is caught, the easier it is to deal with.  Fluoride use has proven to reduce cavities in adults as well as children. Talk to your dentist and hygienist about the best fluoride regime for you, based on your risk for future cavities. If the dentist and hygienist are regularly evaluating the health of your gums, early intervention regarding periodontal or gum disease can help you keep your natural teeth a lot longer.

Finally, the risk of oral cancer does increase with increasing age, and having someone check your mouth at least yearly, especially if you drink moderate to heavy and/or use tobacco, is recommended. Dental care provided at your retirement will most likely not be the last dental treatment you will need, but making sure your mouth is in a healthy state at that time and then taking the steps to maintain that oral health for as long as you can will be another way of helping to assure a happy retirement.