December 7, 2017

Middle-Aged Oral Health

A study of middle-aged oral health found that people aged 50-64 face not only current problems but also an uncertain future.

A study of middle-aged oral health found that people aged 50-64 face not only current problems but also an uncertain future.

Studies of oral health roll out on an irregular basis. Some look at the entire population, such as the work reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Others look more closely at specific groups. One recent study looked at middle-aged oral health.

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging found that many Americans in the 50-64 age range live with dental pain. In addition, many in this group feel embarrassed by their teeth. Moreover, many also report poor prevention practices where oral health is concerned.

Statistics on Middle-Aged Oral Health in the US

The UM study found that people aged 50-64 face not only current problems but also an uncertain future. Among the problems that people reported are the following:

  • 1 in 3 Americans between ages of 50-64 say they feel embarrassed by the their teeth
  • 1 in 3 in this group also say dental problems have caused them pain or other problems in the previous two-year period
  • More than 1 in 4 have no dental insurance currently
  • 51% of those polled do not know how they will get dental insurance after age 65
  • 40% do not get regular teeth cleanings or preventive care

Dental Insurance and Middle-Aged Oral Health

The poll suggests insurance coverage and lack of oral health care are related. Only about one in four – 28% – said they had no dental plan. But among those who said they only sought care for serious dental problems, more than half – 56% – had no dental insurance.

How will they afford dental care in the future?

More than half of the sample did not know how they would get dental insurance after age 65. Some 13% are counting on Medicare or Medicaid to cover their oral care needs after 65. However, traditional Medicare will not cover routine dental work. In addition, Medicaid coverage for dental care is often limited.

The Findings “Highlight a Stark Divide”

AARP was one of the partners in the research. Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, was also involved. The sample included 1,066 people ages 50 to 64.

“Our findings highlight a stark divide among middle-aged Americans in terms of their oral health now,” says associate poll director Erica Solway, Ph.D, “and a real uncertainty about how they will get and pay for care as they age.”

Learn more: Poor Oral Health and Physical Frailty

“This is not out of disregard for the importance of preventive dental care,” Solway continued. “…more than three-quarters of the people we polled agree that regular care is important to preventing problems later. But it does highlight opportunities to improve access to care and insurance options after age 65.”

Solway and poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, found that those polled fit into one of three groups based on their responses:

  • Prevention-Focused: About 60% got regular preventive care and attention for dental problems
  • Inconsistent Prevention: 17% sought preventive dental care only occasionally
  • Problem-Only: 23% went to the dentist only for serious dental problems

“We know that oral health is a critical factor in overall wellness,” stated Dr. Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research for AARP, “and this research helps us identify some key issues – such as affordability and coverage – that we can focus on to address those 40% who are not prevention-focused.”

Read next: Supplemental Dental Insurance

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