Dental Costs A Major Financial Shock For Many Retirees

For too many years, I had what seemed like a small problem: a clicking jaw. The clicking was the result of a small mouth and a terrible overbite. My dentist advised daily exercises and wearing a night guard. There was no improvement. So, my dentist referred me to a specialist who fitted me with a special device. By the way, none of this was covered by my dental insurance so I was paying all out-of-pocket costs. When the first specialist had done all he could do, he referred me to a surgeon who detailed a torturous technique/surgery (which also happened to be experimental) for fixing my jaw. I declined that surgery and returned to my dentist and continued the treatment that he and I had agreed upon earlier. Unfortunately, the situation grew worse. A second surgeon offered a new and promising technique. By this time, I had just retired from my job but I had continued both my medical and dental insurance. Unfortunately, I learned too late that neither of these policies would cover the procedure. I agreed to the new surgery option as I could barely open my mouth. The surgery was to fix the jaw problem and correct my overbite. The surgery succeeded in fixing my jaw, but the overbite surgery failed, resulting in more crowns and implants–essentially, a new mouth–costing lots of time and money.

While I was planning for my retirement I was aware of uncovered health care costs and extra medical expenses. I thought I was prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was starting out retirement with $40,000 of uncovered dental costs.

Some advice: Take care of every possible dental or medical need while you are still employed. Contribute to a Health Savings Account if you have access to one, or set up a retirement emergency fund for unexpected expenses that you will encounter after you stop working. Replacing the furnace or needing a new mouth will eat up your savings. A Society of Actuaries survey found dental expenses were the second item on the list of financial shocks — ranking below home repairs.

What I wish I’d known

Medicare does not pay for dental or vision so find out exactly what your medical and dental insurance will cover as you age. Get the best you can afford — don’t opt for bare bones coverage. If you have a health savings account, check if you can use it to defray costs. Take care of your teeth and get a second opinion. Had I worn a night guard earlier, I might have saved myself a great deal of discomfort and money.

Before You Retire

¯ Take advantage of any dental plan offered by your employer or any association.

¯ Investigate local dental practices that may offer in-house discount plans.

¯ Consider delaying retirement to set aside money for a “dental emergency fund”.

After You Retire

¯ Visit to learn about Dental Insurance and Dental Savings Plans.

¯ Look at, which provides estimates of dental costs in every state.

¯, a state by state listing of affordable low-cost dental care.

¯ Qualified Community Health Centers may provide dental care to low-income seniors. To locate a nearby center, visit