The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

teeth “Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. A man got those two things, he’s got it all.”

Who am I to argue with the hardest working man in show business, Mr. James Brown? James knows what makes the world go around. But I might suggest that perhaps he has the order of importance backwards. A man might lose his hair and still make a go of things (think Bruce Willis), but a man without teeth is another thing entirely.

Teeth are an important indicator of overall health. One recent study showed that people with serious gum disease were 40% more likely to also have a chronic condition that required treatment. Diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lung conditions all have links to periodontal disease. Taking care of your teeth plays an important role in your continued good health.

And yet, as we age, many people begin to ignore their teeth. The American Dental Association reports that almost half of people 65 and over in the U.S. have not seen a dentist in the last year. Almost a third of people over 65 have untreated dental caries.

The reasons for this lack of dental care are varied, but a large part of the neglect can be chocked up to money, or lack thereof. On average, it costs about $300 for the recommended two teeth cleanings that you need each year to maintain your beautiful smile. And lots of people over 65 just don’t have that money to spare.

Planning for health care costs in retirement is a tricky business. Fidelity Investments Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate advises couples retiring at age 65 in 2014 to allocate about $220,000 for health-related expenses going forward, not including the cost of any needed long term care. I’m not sure exactly how much of this figure is allotted for dental care, but it’s clear that preserving your teeth is not getting any cheaper as time passes.

As dentists find new and innovative ways to save diseased teeth and gums, the options for preserving the teeth you were born with increase. Our parents would simply order up a pair of dentures and call it a day, but we have to make decisions about whether an onlay, a crown or an implant makes more sense for us. And each of these treatments comes with a different price tag.

The average cost of a dental implant today is about $4,250. That’s if there are no complications and if you live in Omaha. If you need a bone graft, you can add anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 to that price. The simple extraction needed to get the ball rolling is about $250; an extraction requiring surgery can set you back $500 or more. And then there’s all the x-rays…

Many Baby Boomers have had access to good dental care during their lives. But, because most of us grew up without fluoride in our water supply, we usually have many teeth that have been restored in some way. There’s something sad about being 75 and finding out that three or four of the crowns that you’ve had for the last 30 years are just not going to get you through ‘til the bitter end.

So when you sit down to figure out whether you have enough money set aside for a long and satisfying retirement, be sure that you don’t overlook the costs associated with keeping your teeth in good shape. Try to budget a certain amount yearly for dental care, and be sure that that figure leaves room for some savings for the “big ticket” items like implants that may be needed in the future.

And if you won’t listen to me, then pay attention to The Godfather of Soul. He clearly understood the importance of a good set of chompers!

Blog by Holly Deni