13:22 PM

Coming of Age Without Oral Healthcare

By Fay Donohue, DentaQuest CEO & President

This week, I was honored to speak about the importance of dental care for older Americans at “A State of Decay: Coming of Age without Oral Healthcare.” The day-long event held on September 11 on Capitol Hill was sponsored by Oral Health America and Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait, an initiative of the Dental Trade Alliance. We drew attention to the fact that dental problems are a serious health risk for seniors, and that the difficulties they face in accessing care is too often overlooked.

With 13 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 and older (approximately 40.3 million people), this increasing number of retiring baby boomers and older adults is an influential and growing demographic with the power to advocate for strong policies that support oral health initiatives for seniors.

Fortunately, thanks to progress in our healthcare system, the baby boomer generation has had better oral health than any previous generation. Community water fluoridation, fluoride toothpastes and access to insurance as part of employer-sponsored health plans, played an important role in ensuring that this generation will be the first in which a majority will keep and maintain their natural teeth over their entire lifetime.

However, as older Americans face retirement, they are realizing that they will have to pay largely out of pocket for dental care. This is because the benefits of employer plans end at retirement, and Medicare, the federally-funded health insurance program for the elderly, generally doesn’t cover routine dental procedures, such as cleanings or fillings. And although Medicaid, the government funded health insurance program for low-income families, does fund dental care for low income and disabled elderly in some states, reimbursements are often low, creating limited access to dental professionals.

Lack of access to proper oral health care for seniors is a serious health risk that is almost universally overlooked. It is important to have opportunities like that provided through the Day of Advocacy on Capitol Hill are critical to spreading awareness about the need to provide oral health care for all, especially as our nation ages. DentaQuest is committed to continue working with our partners and other oral health advocacy leaders to make this vision a reality.