It is no secret that aging is not a pleasant experience. It takes a toll on your general well-being including your teeth. Unfortunately, older people seeking dental services face considerable challenges because they cannot rely on their Medicare coverage.
According to an analysis by American Dental Association between 2011 and 2014, over a third of seniors with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, equivalent to an annual income of $23,000 had untreated tooth decay.
Dr. Michael Helgeson, CEO of Apple Tree Dental explained the cause of this is due to the fact that almost every senior after reaching the age of 65 has to pay for dental out of pocket.
Apple Tree is a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis and it operates a total of eight clinics in both California and Minnesota targeting underserved seniors. It also has mobile clinics that provide onsite dental care services at nursing homes and other elder care facilities.
“Medicare does not cover dental care unless it is among the services received in a hospital. However, a senior citizen can have some dental coverage under the Medicare Advantage Program, though it is very minimal and the range of services varies. The plan is more of a loss leader meant to attract people.” Says Dr. Judith Jones, a dentistry professor at Boston University.
Somehow, the elderly are victims of success in dentistry. Water fluoridation daily tooth brushing along with regular dental visits have led to the improvements in oral health. Today, more than 60% of the elderly living in nursing homes still have their teeth unlike in the early 20th century when people in their 30s and 40s had lost most of their teeth.
But all teeth require care without which, teeth problems will lead to pain which in turn limits the type of food one eats. Conversely, loose the teeth allow bacteria to enter the body.
According to Jones, poor oral health is a source of suffering and embarrassment to low-income seniors without access to dental care.
With no insurance coverage and limited income, seniors are forced to skip dental visits even though they may have overflowing dental issues such as difficulty with chewing and biting, painful and dry mouths, not to mention damaged teeth which leads them, many times, to avoid interaction or even smiling.
Medicaid, a program created by the federal government to provide free medical services for low-income people covers children dental care but adult dental coverage is spottier. Most states offer emergency dental care to all people with Medicaid but there are eight states that do not offer dental benefits to adults. This is according to a study by Oral Health America.
“It’s not a worthwhile investment for seniors to purchase private dental coverage due to the high premiums and copays.” said Marko Vujicic, vice president of American Dental Association Health Policy Institute.
Low-income seniors only have a few options when it comes to dental care. Federally funded health centers may offer senior dental services based on one’s income and Apple Tree may try and help a small number of seniors living in their service regions but they are simply a band-aid of sorts.
Dr. Judith Jones recommends Medicare to add a dental benefit for seniors providing diagnostic as well as preventive dental services and seniors needing costly restorative work like bridges and crown can copay. More work still needs to be done in order to make dental care affordable for all seniors.
If you have any questions or concerns about your family’s dental care, give Dr. Mott a call. We can schedule a cleaning or checkup for you and answer any questions you may have.