Dental Tribune America

Many older adults face barriers to oral health care in the US

By Dental Tribune International
September 03, 2015

CHICAGO, USA: Oral health is important at all ages, as it can affect a person's general health and well-being significantly. However, a recent survey has found that especially the rapidly increasing older adult population in the U.S. has difficulty accessing oral health care. For instance, it showed that more than half of low-income older adults have not seen a dentist in the past year, mostly owing to lack of dental insurance.

The survey also showed that older Americans are only inadequately educated about oral health and drug interaction, for example, by health professionals. Over 70 percent of the respondents said their doctor rarely or never discusses how medications can affect oral health and 66 percent said the same of their pharmacist. Most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter medications, which can have several side effects, including dry mouth and reduction of salivary flow, which can increase the risk of oral disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals in long-term care facilities—about 5 percent of the elderly—take an average of eight drugs each day.

In general, older people are more prone to dental disease, but many older Americans do not have dental insurance. These benefits are often lost when they retire. The CDC states that the situation may be worse for older women, who generally have lower incomes and may never have had dental insurance.

In order to raise awareness of oral health among the elderly, Oral Health America (OHA), a national nonprofit organization, is promoting the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth with its annual public "Fall for Smiles" campaign. As part of the initiative, OHA will be hosting an event, "Aging in America: You Can't Be Healthy Without Good Oral Health," on Sept. 30 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, next to the Capitol in Washington. At the event, OHA will present the results of its recent survey and preview its annual report on the state of oral health of older adults in the U.S.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, nearly 35 million Americans are 65 or older. By 2050, that number is expected to increase to 48 million. Today, about 25 percent of adults 60 and older no longer have any natural teeth.

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