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Filling A Need: The Value Of Dental Care For Seniors

posted by AHIP

on July 2, 2019

It seems clear that more people would benefit from dental coverage: Fewer than a third of seniors 65 and older had dental insurance in 2017, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet in the last year, nearly two-thirds of seniors sought dental care.

Health insurance providers know the benefits of good dental care go far beyond preserving your smile and impact a person’s overall health. In fact, Delta Dental recently launched the Delta Dental Institute to do research and community outreach on oral health and its connection to overall health, and support policies that will promote access to affordable oral care.

Since most dental plans cover 100% of routine checkups and cleanings, they can be a gateway for members to detect problems including poor nutrition, and even some cancers early on so they can be addressed quickly.

Poor oral health,” notes a brief from Kaiser Family Foundation, “can exacerbate general health issues and systemic diseases.

Kaiser Family Foundation goes on to estimate that more than 2 million visits to the emergency department  each year are for dental concerns that could have been addressed in a primary care setting.

And the social barriers that can damage health and inhibit access to medical care (such as poverty, unemployment, and poor nutrition) apply to oral health and care. The same CDC study found that:

  • The percentage of seniors who had a dental visit in the past year decreased with age.
  • Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, and Asian seniors were less likely to have had a dental visit in the past year.
  • Poor and near-poor seniors were less likely to have received dental care in the past year.

Traditional Medicare doesn’t include dental coverage, which can mean high out-of-pocket costs for patients who need care. Medicare Advantage plans, however, often do include dental health benefits, and covered 10.6 million seniors in 2016.

The number of seniors is on the rise, with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting there will be 78 million U.S. seniors by 2035. It’s the same year when they project that seniors will outnumber children. As the number of older Americans grows (with the last of the Baby Boomers turning 65 in 2030), so will their need for good dental care that they can afford. Dental coverage is one strategy to help people continue to live longer and age better.