A new national poll shows that one in three Americans aged 50 to 64 years old are embarrassed by the condition of their teeth. In addition, they report dental issues have caused them problems and/or pain over the course of the last two years.
Problems accessing or paying for dental care are not new to Americans, but studies usually report on children or the elderly. The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging took a look at middle-aged people and how their oral health is faring.
Insurance was identified by the survey as one of the potential reasons for lack of care — 28 percent of those surveyed reported not having any dental insurance. Among the respondents who reported only seeking dental care when a serious problem arises, 56 percent had no dental insurance.
Things don’t look up for this demographic as they age, either — 13 percent of those in the study said they plan to count on Medicare or Medicaid for dental expenses, which can be limiting or nonexistent in some cases. Medicare, in its traditional role, doesn’t cover dental care, and Medicaid has minimal or no coverage at all in some areas. When it comes to future dental care, 51 percent of those surveyed said they are unsure as to how they will obtain dental insurance once they reach age 65.
Dental Care for Older Americans
While some of the oral health problems older Americans face are common among all ages, there are certain conditions that affect this demographic more, according to Dr. John Pappas, DDS, of Arcadia Dental Arts in Phoenix, Arizona.
“A common side effect of many medications that are taken by older Americans is dry mouth,” he said. “While it may just seem like an annoyance, it can actually cause problems when it comes to oral health.”
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, saliva is important because it helps digest food, protects teeth from decay and even prevents infections by controlling the bacteria in the mouth. The online resource Tooth Wisdom, which specializes in oral health advice for older adults, says 20 percent of seniors experience chronic dry mouth symptoms that are usually the result of medication.
Gum disease is another common problem that occurs more frequently as we age. It begins as painful, red or swollen gums that may bleed even during your normal oral care routine. If left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss and even bone loss.
“Almost 30 percent of patients over the age of 65 have no remaining teeth left,” said Pappas.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says that, on average, seniors over the age of 65 have only 18.9 remaining teeth. These numbers show that older Americans are experiencing problems when it comes to oral care. Pappas said patients should prepare and plan for oral care not just now, but also in the future.