Why Older Americans Shouldn’t Neglect Dental Care
More than 1 in 4 Americans 65 years of age and older report the overall condition of their mouth and teeth as being fair or poor1. Their candor is often justified as several oral health conditions become more prevalent with age.
In addition, some people over 65 are neglecting their dental care, with 23% not visiting their dentist in the last five years2. That may be because many lost their dental benefits at retirement – and Original Medicare and Medigap do not cover routine dental care3. In fact, 65% of Medicare beneficiaries lack dental coverage4.
These are the common oral health problems you typically see among older adults
About 30% of people 65 and older suffer from dry mouth5, which occurs when salivary glands produce less saliva than normal due to medications, health conditions or other factors. In fact, it is listed as a side effect of more than 500 medications6. And, 90% of people 65 and older report using a prescription drug in the past 30 days7.
The reduced flow of saliva caused by dry mouth increases the risk of cavities, gum disease and more. While 96% of older adults have had tooth decay at some time, dry mouth can make their later years particularly cavity prone. What’s more, with many older adults neglecting to visit the dentist regularly, 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay8.
Gum disease is widespread among older Americans, with 68% of those 65 years or older having this condition8. Advanced gum disease can destroy gums, bone and ligaments that support teeth. It is often painless until it reaches the advanced stage, which is why the effects are frequently not felt until later in life9.
Gum disease is often a factor in tooth loss. Nearly 20% of people 65 and older have lost all of their teeth, and the number rises to 26% among those 75 and older10. However, there is some good news: Older Americans are keeping their teeth longer than they were just a few decades ago11.
People over 65 are also more susceptible to oral cancer, which costs about 10,000 Americans their lives each year12. The average age of newly diagnosed patients is 6213. Older men have the highest incidence of mouth, throat and tongue cancers, with tobacco and alcohol use identified as major risk factors14.
How older Americans can keep a healthy smile
Fortunately, preventive measures can help older adults avoid many of these conditions. Here are steps to you can take to protect your smile15.
- Practice good daily oral health habits by brushing twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.
- Continue to visit the dentist regularly, even if you have lost your teeth or wear dentures.
- Drink water and eat a well-balanced diet.
- Avoid tobacco products and limit alcohol consumption.
- Talk to your physician and dentist about dry mouth. For immediate relief of symptoms, drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum.
- Discuss replacement options for missing teeth with your dentist. Dentures, implants and bridges can help restore your smile.
- Clean all removable dentures every day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and a non-abrasive cleanser16.
- Do monthly self-exams for oral cancer. Look for unusual sores or swelling, white or reddish patches and changes in your lips, tongue and throat that last more than two weeks. During dental visits, the dentist will do a thorough exam to check for signs of oral cancer. Early detection can save lives.
Purchasing dental coverage is an important way to protect your oral and overall health. It often covers preventive care at 100% and helps reduce the cost of dental procedures. While some Medicare Advantage plans offer dental care, you can also purchase individual dental insurance as standalone dental plans. Delta Dental offers a range of plans for you to choose from, allowing you to enjoy dental benefits in retirement.