Questions for Lead Author Ellen Kramarow, Health Statistician, of “Dental Care Among Adults Aged 65 Years and Over, 2017.”
Q: Why focus on dental care among adults aged 65 years or older in the United States?
EK: Dental care is often overlooked as people age, but it is an important component of overall health care. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and osteoporosis, which are common among older persons, can affect oral health; in addition, having poor oral health may contribute to some chronic conditions and impact nutrition. Routine dental care is not covered under fee-for-service Medicare, so older adults may have trouble accessing appropriate dental care.
Q: What are the main findings on dental insurance, dental visits, and unmet dental care due to cost?
EK: In 2017, among adults aged 65 and over, 29.2% had dental insurance; 65.6% had a dental visit in the past 12 months; and 7.7% had an unmet need for dental care due to cost.
No statistically significant differences by sex were observed in any of these dental care indicators. Adults aged 65–74 were more likely to have dental insurance, to have visited the dentist in the past 12 months, and to have unmet need for dental care due to cost compared with adults over age 75.
Poor older adults were less likely to have dental insurance and to have visited the dentist, and more likely to have an unmet need for dental care due to cost compared with not-poor older adults.
Q: Are there any reasons why more U.S. adults aged 65 years or older don’t have dental insurance?
EK: Most older adults have access to health insurance through Medicare, which does not cover routine dental care. Older adults who do have dental insurance may have obtained it through purchase of a separate dental plan, through retiree health benefits, through a Medicare Advantage plan, or through Medicaid.
Q: Was there a specific finding in your report that surprised you?
EK: Only 30.3% of older adults who were edentate (had no natural teeth) had a dental visit in the past 12 months, compared with 73.6% who had at least some natural teeth. Even edentate adults need dental care to help maintain good oral health.
Q: What is the take home message for this report?
EK: Many older adults do not receive dental care, and access to dental care varies by age, poverty status, and race and Hispanic origin.