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:

Use of continuous combined oral contraceptives demonstrates bone health benefits
Women with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) become estrogen deficient at an early age, which makes them more vulnerable to the loss of bone mineral density.
Simple oral health steps help improve elite athletes' performance
Elite athletes who adopted simple oral health measures, such as using high fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between their teeth, reported significantly reduced negative effects on performance related to poor oral health, finds a study led by UCL.
Dental care and oral health under the clouds of COVID-19
DR Clinical & Translational Research has published an invited commentary by researchers at the University of Rochester, Eastman Institute for Oral Health, NY, USA on dental care and the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including the provision of dental care and protecting patients and staff during the pandemic.
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.'
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

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.