The oral health of older Americans is in a state of decay, according to a new national report released by Oral Health America (OHA). A State of Decay, a state-by-state analysis of oral health care delivery and public health factors impacting the oral health of older adults, reveals more than half of the country received a “fair” or “poor” assessment when it comes to minimal standards affecting dental care access for older adults.
One reason for the decline in oral health care is that many older Americans do not have dental insurance. In fact, only 2 percent of Americans who retire do so with a dental benefit plan. In addition, transportation issues, mobility limitations, fear of dentists, and lack of awareness of available oral health services are other factors which impact dental care.
According to the report, the factors negatively affecting the oral health care of older Americans include:
* Persistent lack of oral health coverage – 21 states do not offer dental benefits for low-income Americans or only provide emergency coverage through Medicaid dental benefits.
* Strained dental health providers – 31 states have a shortage of dental health providers, meaning they only have enough providers to cover 40 percent of the population.
* High rates of tooth loss – Eight states had extremely high rates of edentulism – the loss of all natural permanent teeth. Loss of teeth often results in a person forgoing nutritious food choices due to the inability to chew properly.
* Deficiencies in preventive programs – 13 states have about 60 percent of residents living in communities where fluoride is not added to drinking water, despite the fact that it’s been recognized for 68 years to markedly reduce dental decay.
“While we are seeing improvements in certain areas of older adult dental care, there is still a lack of progress in advancing the oral health of such a vulnerable population,” says Dr. Ira Lamster, professor, Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Older adults face significant health challenges if their oral health is poor, and there is no coordinated program to help fund necessary services.”
In response to the need for reliable, readily available, cost-effective, and digestible oral health resources for older adults, Oral Health America has created www.toothwisdom.org, a user-friendly website that connects older adults and their caregivers with local oral health resources. With funding from the DentaQuest Foundation and support from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Special Care Dentistry Association, toothwisdom.org offers dependable oral care information from oral health experts across the country, so older Americans can learn why it’s so important to care for their mouths as they age. Visitors to the site can also utilize an interactive map to find resources where they live for affordable dental care, transportation, social services, financing care and support for caregivers.