If you’re a veteran of the military you might think that you don’t need dental insurance because you can get dental care from Veterans Affairs (VA). Retired military dental insurance is available for veterans, but it’s not always the best option. Some veterans do qualify for VA dental but many don’t and don’t even realize it. The VA has strict guidelines about who qualifies for dental care. Even if you do qualify for dental care there are reasons why you should consider buying private dental insurance instead of relying on VA dental care. Dental insurance for veterans may be a better choice than VA dental care.
Why veterans need dental insurance
When veterans leave the military it’s often assumed that they will be eligible for dental care through the VA, but that’s not the case for all veterans. Getting dental care from the VA can be a lengthy and confusing process because there are many rules and restrictions on who is eligible for dental care and what type of care they qualify for. Even for veterans who do qualify for care there can be delays, extra paperwork, and confusion. Private dental insurance can help veterans ensure they can receive the dental care they need.
1. Not everyone qualifies for VA dental care
It surprises many people to find out that not all veterans qualify for dental care through the VA. There are many different factors that go into determining whether or not you qualify for VA dental care like your military service history, how long you served, your current living situation, and your health. Disabled veterans who have a VA rating of 100% permanent and total disability (P&T) may quality for full dental care while other veterans may only qualify for emergency dental care or no dental care at all.
There is current legislation in the works that would help veterans by providing more access to dental care but right now only about 8% of veterans qualify for dental care through the VA.1
In order to determine if you are eligible for VA dental care you will need your VA disability rating, if you have one, and any other paperwork that you received when you retired. If you were medically retired from the military it’s a good idea to have a copy of your health records as well. If you don’t have the copy of your health records that came with your VA disability rating sheet, you can get a copy of your medical records from the last military treatment facility you were seen before you retired.
2. VA insurance doesn’t cover all dental care
The VA doesn’t cover all dental care for veterans. Preventive services are usually covered but expensive procedures like dental implants or oral surgery usually aren’t covered unless they are necessary to fix a service-related problem. For example, if a veteran needs dental implants because they lost teeth as a result of explosive blast, then the VA might cover that cost but if they need implants for another reason that may not be covered by the VA. Veterans can often get stuck waiting for approvals for care that could take months, which means they end up going without Needed dental care.
3. No choice of dentists
When veterans access dental care through the VA, they don’t get a choice of dentists, rather they are assigned appointments with providers that work within the VA system.
4. Limited family dental coverage
Veterans who do qualify to receive dental care through the VA don’t get coverage for their families, so they may still need to purchase additional dental insurance to cover their partners and children. In some cases, veterans may be able to purchase dental insurance for their families through the VA but their families may face long wait times for care and a limited availability of dental providers.
Dental problems that affect veterans
Due to the nature of military service, compared to the U.S. general population, military veterans are at an increased risk of experiencing dental problems. Although veterans are more likely to seek preventative care than civilians, smoking rates among veterans may be higher. They also have a high risk of economic adversity. Despite a generally lower risk for poverty, veterans are at greatly increased risk for homelessness compared to the general U.S. population.2 Oral diseases and dental problems that veterans may have a high risk for include:
Anyone can get cavities, but veterans tend to have more risk factors for developing cavities because of their service. While they are on active duty they may not always have the time or opportunity to engage in a healthy oral hygiene routine that includes regularly brushing their teeth and flossing. Veterans also tend to have high rates of anxiety and depression which can cause them to grind their teeth.3 That grinding can weaken tooth enamel and cause small cracks that can turn into cavities when bacteria and plaque get inside of them.
Tooth decay is also prevalent among veterans. Factors that are specific to military service can contribute to long term tooth decay, such exposure to extreme conditions that can lead to dry mouth and tooth decay.
Veterans who served overseas in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom are prone to having mouth and gum sores, pain, and inflammation caused by exposure to chemical agents and exposure to irritants like sand.4
Dental problems that occur with age
In addition to having dental problems that are specific to veterans and their military service veterans also need regular access to dental care as they age. The natural aging process takes a heavy toll on people as they get older and can lead to significant dental problems. Adults over 65 are more likely to have tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer.5
Benefits of dental insurance
Retired military dental insurance is available for veterans, but it’s not always the best option. Many veterans don’t qualify for VA dental care due to strict regulations. Buying private dental insurance instead of relying on VA dental care may be a better option.
Many veterans have a hard time getting the dental care they need and private dental insurance can help. Dental insurance offers benefits that the VA may not offer:
- Choosing your own dentist
- Emergency dental care when you need it
- Family coverage
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This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.