It’s an understatement to say that many Americans have struggled with finding the right healthcare for their families. And even if someone does find the perfect fit for their family, some of these health plans don’t include dental coverage.
And let’s be frank: when you have illnesses, you most likely consider seeing your family physician for every kind of ailment out there, while dentists are often cordoned to strictly oral issues. However, people need to realize that their oral cavity isn’t an isolated system. If something goes wrong, there’s a good chance that it can affect your overall health as well. And since the decline of oral health can possibly translate to poor overall health, it is imperative for certain groups, like seniors, to prioritize their dental visits.
Sadly, one recent article says that only 10% of older Americans actually have coverage, making it that much more difficult to get the care they need:
A new study published in the December edition of Health Affairs analyzed access to dental care for Medicare beneficiaries, and the findings don’t look good. Only about 10% of older U.S. adults have dental insurance, and, of those who do, they still pay half of all their dental costs out of pocket.
The researchers looked at Medicare data to see how seniors with different income levels and types of insurance access dental care. They attributed the overall lack of coverage and high percentage of out-of-pocket spending to larger policy trends, including the exclusion of dental care in Medicare and the changing of insurance benefits for retirees.
“Despite the wealth of evidence that oral health is related to physical health, Medicare explicitly excludes dental care from coverage, leaving beneficiaries at risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease and exposed to high out-of-pocket spending,”
“Until dental care is appropriately considered to be part of one’s medical care, and financially covered as such, poor oral health will continue to be the ‘silent epidemic’ that impedes improving the quality of life for older adults.”
Along with grassroots campaigning, dentists and insurance companies need to work together to make dental policies more affordable and accessible for aging populations.
Although dental care is of course needed for people of all ages, seniors are at a higher risk for certain diseases–like oral cancer–which means that dental care is even more vital. Delta Dental says that those over the age of 50 are at high risk but can be saved with early intervention:
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer, accounting for 30,000 newly diagnosed cases each year – and 8,000 deaths. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, facial and oral disfigurement and even death.
Who gets oral cancer?
Anyone can get oral cancer. Heavy drinkers and people who smoke or use other tobacco products are at higher risk. Though it is most common in people over age 50, new research indicates that younger people may be developing oral cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV).
Early detection can save
The good news? The earlier oral cancer is detected and treated, the better the survival rate – which is just one of the many reasons you should visit your dentist regularly. Twice-yearly dental checkups are typically covered with no or a low deductible under most Delta Dental plans.
As part of the exam, your dentist will check for oral cancer indicators, including feeling for lumps or irregular tissue in your mouth, head and neck. A biopsy will be recommended if anything seems concerning or out of the ordinary.
If you have a senior family member, talk with them about the need for preventative dentistry, so they can get oral screenings and teeth cleanings to lower their risk of cancer, as well as gum diseases.