“At all ages, dental care and coverage varies, and cost plays a major role,” says Preeti Malani, MD, survey director and professor of internal medicine at UM with special training in care of the elderly. “We know that poor oral health can affect everything from social interactions to eligibility for surgery, so it’s important that healthcare professionals as well as policy makers understand what older people are going through.”
One in four adults over the age of 65 surveyed (27%) said they were bothered by the condition of their teeth, and around the same percentage rated their overall dental health as fair or poor.
The role of dental care costs
One in three had not been to the dentist for preventive care such as cleaning for at least a year. When the research team cross-referenced this with household income, they found that people with incomes above $60,000 were almost twice as likely as those with incomes below $30,000 to have gone to the dentist in the past year.
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Almost half of the survey sample (46%) said they were missing teeth but did not have a denture or implant to fill the gap.
“Coverage for dental care, as well as vision and hearing care, is critical to the long-term health of our population,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for the AARP. “Even simple teeth cleanings may not be affordable for seniors on fixed incomes, so having coverage for dental benefits can help solve that problem.”
The survey also highlights the growing body of evidence linking oral health to overall health and well-being. Those who said their overall physical or mental health was fair or poor also visited the dentist less often and were more likely to say their oral health was poor. Problems with dry mouth from medication use and difficulty eating a healthy diet due to untreated dental issues could make these issues worse, Malani says.
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The National Healthy Aging Survey results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,039 adults aged 65 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. The questions were written and the data interpreted and compiled by the IHPI team. Laptops and internet access were provided to respondents who did not already have them.
A full report of the results and methodology is available at www.healthyagingpoll.org, as well as past National Healthy Aging Survey reports.
NOTE: The NPHA team recognizes the unprecedented challenges associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially for older adults and their families. The team is working remotely and remains committed to continuing to share poll results based on the views and experiences of American adults ages 50-80.