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The Elderly's Struggle with Dental Visits

Dec 17, 2015

By Dean George

Did you hear about the self-help group that had to cancel their Christmas party? The holiday planning committee for Procrastinators Anonymous kept postponing their planning meeting.

Millions of Americans routinely postpone dental visits but it’s no laughing matter, especially for our nation’s seniors. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that 20% of seniors 75 or older haven’t seen a dentist in the past five years.


There are several reasons why seniors postpone dental visits, the ADA says. Some older patients resist dental visits over concerns they’ve neglected their teeth for so long. Many seniors genuinely fear seeing a dentist, others have impaired cognitive skills and many don’t comprehend the need and importance of regular dental checkups.  

Yet others have trouble getting to a dental office due to a lack of transportation or personal mobility issues.

Many seniors have had strokes or suffer from arthritis, said Susan Hyde, division chair of oral epidemiology and dental public health at the University of California at San Francisco School of Dentistry.  “They can’t take care of their own teeth and are prone to tooth decay and subject to pain. It becomes very complicated,” she said.

Thirty-eight percent of seniors in long-term care facilities in California are missing all of their original teeth, according to preliminary assessment results by the nonprofit Center for Oral Health. Almost half of those have at least one tooth had untreated decay and roughly 1 in 7 needed urgent care.

Medicare doesn’t offer routine dental care and many seniors that previously had dental coverage through employer group plans lost their coverage when they retired. 

“How do you keep these folks healthy as they age, given it becomes a luxury to afford even basic dental care?” said Theresa Anselmo of the Center for Oral Health.                                          

As previously mentioned in Dental Wire, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders introduced U.S. Senate legislation in 2012 that required the federal government provide dental insurance for millions of Americans, young and old alike, much like the Affordable Act does health insurance.

Another bill reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015 by Illinois Representative Robin Kelly would allow organizations to expand oral health education and outreach to the elderly in underserved communities. That bill was co-sponsored by Idaho Representative and licensed dentist Mike Simpson.

The Action for Dental Health Act supported many of the initiatives identified by the ADA and had that organization’s full support.

Dental Insurance Store has dental plans designed for seniors and regular dental plans that cover routine preventive and diagnostic procedures regardless of age. To find plans available in your area, click here.

Source: washingtonpost.com, ada.org
Photo source: gogoodscout.com


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