Dental Care for the Middle Aged

A recent study of dental care of the middle aged (age 50 – 64) presents a disconcerting picture. Their needs and expectations after age 65 are very uncertain. This study was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP. The current state of dental care and oral health among the middle aged is a surprise to many. We know that older Americans find it difficult to pay for dental care. This study casts light on the challenges faced by thosesm graphicstock cbi-0216-038 013 220614 approaching retirement.

  • “One in three . . . say they’re embarrassed by the condition of their teeth.”
  • A slightly larger percentage of middle aged Americans report dental problems that cause pain, difficulty eating, missed work, or other health problems in the last five years.
  • And, 40 percent don’t get regular cleanings or other preventive care that could help to prevent problems in the future.
  • 28 percent of those in the study reported having no dental insurance coverage.
  • Among those who seek care only for serious dental problems, 56 percent are without dental insurance.
  • 28 percent of those surveyed have no dental insurance.
  • 56 percent see a dentist only for serious dental problems.

In terms of current oral health there is a serious divide among middle aged adults around those who have insurance and good dental care (including prevention) and those who do not. Thus, the cost of preventive dental care (with or without insurance) is a significant barrier for many middle-aged Americans. Other reasons for not visiting a dentist regularly include being afraid of the dentist, could not find time to visit a dentist, or could not find a dentist.

 

More than one in 4 have no dental insurance now. Without preventive care and regular treatment of emerging problems, their oral health is likely to decline.

 

As middle-aged Americans look to the future and their dental care needs

  • 51 percent said they don’t know how they will get dental insurance after age 65.
  • 13 percent expect to count on Medicare and Medicaid for their dental needs.
  • Medicare pays nothing for dental care; Medicaid coverage is very limited.

Despite the fact that most of the participants in this study understand and agree with the importance of preventive dental care, and understand the link between dental health and overall health, those who are currently middle-aged face a very challenging landscape for receiving appropriate dental care after age 65.

 

We know the number of Americans now over the age of 65 who face challenges in obtaining and paying for dental car. This study indicates that we can only look forward to a worsening situation as those currently middle-aged also face the same challenges in obtaining and paying for dental care. The question is what we can do and what we will do to improve the dental health of our seniors and how they can be expected to pay for treatment? The solution probably lies in some combination of changes and improvements that will address this issue. Some elements of a solution would seem to be to (1) improve the coverage offered in dental insurance and (2) find ways to make dental insurance either more affordable for all or available to all as part of Medicare. Finding a workable solution to the problem and improving the dental health and overall health of aging Americans is one that we must face as a nation. Good dental health improves both life expectancy and the wellbeing of every person.