Keep Those Teeth: Dental Screenings for Older Americans

America’s aging population should not be losing their teeth.

Today, three-quarters of people over 65 are retaining at least some of their natural teeth with improved self-care and regular visits to the dentist.

Endangered oral health can be detected through a simple screening, but a large number of adults haven’t had someone look in their mouth for years. For the first time, the U.S. Senate’s bill, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S.192), includes an oral health screenings provision that will allow aging services to use disease prevention and health promotion funds to conduct oral health screenings.

Free screenings are essential to preserving the oral health of older Americans especially since Medicare does not include a dental benefit and Medicaid dental coverage is limited. The Oral Health America 2013 report entitled A State of Decay revealed that in the U.S., 70 percent of older adults did not have any type of dental insurance coverage, placing them at risk for serious medical issues such as infections, systemic diseases, nutritional deficiencies and in some cases cancer-related death. A more recent study at the University of Florida found an association between tooth loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite the connection between dental disease and overall health, in 2013, 42 percent of states (21 states) still provided no dental benefit or emergency-only coverage through adult Medicaid.

A growing movement of oral health advocates are fighting for increased dental coverage, but until bi-annual preventive dental care is the norm among older adults, increased oral health screening in assisted living, long-term care and community environments is essential.

Aging in Place Infographic from www.toothwisdom.org

Aging in Place Infographic from www.toothwisdom.org

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