Nav: Home

Half of 65+ adults lack dental insurance; poll finds strong support for Medicare coverage

March 24, 2020

Nearly all older Americans support adding a dental benefit to the Medicare program that covers most people over age 65, according to a new national poll that also reveals how often costs get in the way of oral health for older adults.

Ninety-three percent of people between the ages of 65 and 80 favor including dental coverage in traditional Medicare, though the percentage dropped to 59% when they were asked if they'd favor it even if they had to pay more for their Medicare benefits.

Just over half of the older adults polled (53%) said they currently have dental coverage. Half of this group are covered as employees or retirees, or spouses of employees.

Another quarter said they have dental coverage because they've chosen to get their Medicare coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan offered by a commercial insurance company. In fact, 72% of those with Medicare Advantage coverage said they'd chosen their plan in part because it covered dental care.

Whether they had insurance or not, cost plays a role in dental decisions, the poll finds. One in five of the older adults polled said they had delayed getting dental care, or gone without it, in the past two years.

The majority of these respondents said cost, or insurance problems, played a role in this decision. Those without dental insurance, and those with lower incomes, were more likely to say they'd delayed or gone without oral care.

The new results come from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, carried out by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center. It involved a national sample of more than 1,030 adults aged 65 to 80 who answered a range of questions about their own oral health and dental health policy.

"These results suggest that health care providers and policymakers should seek solutions to better identify and address how cost and other factors act as barriers to dental care among older adults," says Domenica Sweier, Ph.D., D.D.S.

Sweier, a clinical associate professor at the U-M School of Dentistry, helped develop the poll questions and analyze the results. She adds that as providers and policy makers continue to seek solutions, "This will be important to preventing health and social consequences of unmet oral health needs in this population."

Differences across the over-50 age range

A previous National Poll on Healthy Aging report looked at dental health, including insurance and cost factors, among people in their 50s and early 60s. Only one in four of those polled said they lacked dental insurance, but half said they did not know how they would get dental coverage after they retired and some assumed that traditional Medicare would cover their dental care needs.

"Across the spectrum of ages, dental care and coverage vary, and cost plays a major role," says Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at U-M with special training in the care of older adults. "We know that poor oral health can affect everything from social interactions to eligibility for surgery, so it's important for health professionals as well as policymakers to understand what older adults are experiencing."

One in four of the adults over 65 polled (27%) said they were embarassed by the condition of the teeth, and about the same percentage rated their overall dental health as fair or poor.

The role of dental care costs

One in three hadn't been to the dentist for preventive care such as a cleaning in at least a year. When the research team cross-referenced this with household income, they found that those with incomes over $60,000 were nearly twice as likely as those with incomes less than $30,000 to have gone to the dentist in the past year.

Nearly half of the poll sample (46%) said they were missing teeth but didn't have a denture or implant to fill the gap.

"Coverage of dental care, as well as vision and hearing care, is critical for the long-term health of our population" says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. "Even simple teeth cleanings may not be affordable to seniors living on fixed incomes, so having coverage for dental benefits may help address that problem."

The poll also shines additional light on the growing body of evidence linking oral health and overall health and wellbeing.

Those who said their overall physical or mental health were fair or poor also visited the dentist's office less often, and were more likely to say their oral health was poor. Problems with dry mouth related to medication use, and challenges eating a healthy diet because of untreated dental problems, could make these issue worse, says Malani.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging 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. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have them.
-end-
A full report of the findings and methodology is available at http://www.healthyagingpoll.org, along with past National Poll on Healthy Aging reports.

NOTE: The NPHA team acknowledges the unprecedented challenges related to 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 perspectives and experiences of U.S. adults age 50-80.

Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Related Oral Health Articles:

Behavioral sciences in the promotion of oral health
The importance and value of behavioral sciences in dentistry has long been recognized and over time behavioral sciences have expanded our understanding of oral health beyond 'disease' to a broader biopsychosocial concept of oral health.
Oral health for older adults
Practicing good oral hygiene, using fluoride treatments, and getting regular dental care reduces oral infections and their complications.
As we age, oral health plays increasing role in overall health
The need is evident, say the authors. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the prevalence of cavities is more than twice as high in older adults than younger adults.
Oral health effects of tobacco products: Science and regulatory policy proceedings
AADR held the 'Oral Health Effects of Tobacco Products: Science and Regulatory Policy' meeting.
Elite athletes have poor oral health despite brushing twice daily
Elite athletes have high rates of oral disease despite brushing their teeth more frequently than most people, finds a new UCL study published in the British Dental Journal.
The Lancet: Big Sugar and neglect by global health community fuel oral health crisis
Oral health has been isolated from traditional healthcare and health policy for too long, despite the major global public health burden of oral diseases, according to a Lancet Series on Oral Health, published today in The Lancet.
Indigenous oral health inequalities begin in childhood: A multi-country study
At the 97th General Session & Exhibition of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR), held in conjunction with the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) and the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for Dental Research (CADR), Dandara Haag, University of Adelaide, Australia, gave an oral presentation on 'Indigenous Oral Health Inequalities Begin in Childhood: A Multi-country Study.'
Nursing, dental, and medical students train together to improve kids' oral health
Nursing, medical, and dental students can work as a team to improve their knowledge of pediatric oral health -- and how to work with their fellow health professionals, finds new research led by NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.
Poor oral health may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer among African American women
African American women with poor oral health may be more likely to get pancreatic cancer (PC).
Does cognitive function affect oral health during aging?
In a Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology study, poor cognitive function in older adults was associated with poorer oral health and higher risk of tooth loss in later life.
More Oral Health News and Oral Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.