Seniors Face Dental Coverage Crisis

Series: Health | Story 1

Last updated 3/18/2015 at 9:32pm | View PDF

Healthy teeth have become an unaffordable luxury for far too many senior citizens. Nearly a quarter (23%) of seniors suffer from severe periodontal disease.

Limited access to dental care is rapidly becoming the most significant health crisis facing America's elders, according to Oral Health America, a non-profit group whose study A State of Decay indicates that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has failed to address the problem.

Routine dental care is not provided under Medicare, and less than 20% of older Americans have private dental insurance, according to A State of Decay. While the ACA marketplace does offer some dental insurance plans, traditional insurance doesn't always meet seniors' needs.

"Many older people have a preexisting dental condition, which dental insurance typically does not cover -- and certainly won't cover without a long waiting period,” said Bill Chase, vice president of marketing for :DentalPlans. “And many seniors need the more complicated restorative procedures, which insurance also may not cover."

Emergency room visits for dental problems doubled from a reported 1 million cases of adults over 65 in 1999-2000 to 2.3 million cases in 2009-2010, according to the findings in A State of Decay. The report noted that emergency rooms typically treat dental issues with extractions and/or painkillers, a temporary fix that wastes millions of taxpayer dollars annually.

"The emergency room should obviously not be the place where people get their dental care, nor should we be neglecting the oral care of our seniors,” added Chase. “The end result is unnecessary pain, possible health complications and avoidable expense.”

A State of Decay further warned that the lack of access to dental care currently plaguing seniors today is a growing problem that will continue to affect virtually all Americans.


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