As an experienced provider of senior dental care, downtown Portland dentist Dr. Jason Bajuscak understands firsthand how difficult it can be for seniors to receive the dental care they need. Good oral hygiene plays an important role in an individual’s overall health, and chronic illnesses and medications that seniors deal with can make their oral health worse. However, providing senior dental care has its own unique challenges. Approximately 20 percent of seniors over the age of 75 haven’t seen a dentist in the last five years, according to the American Dental Association.
Many senior patients resist visiting the dentist due to anxiety or fear. Some seniors who suffer from cognitive decline may simply not understand the need to visit the dentist, while others may not possess the mobility required to get to a dental office.
Challenges Facing Senior Dental Care
When it comes to getting seniors the care they require, a variety of problems can interfere.
For seniors who have suffered a stroke or have arthritis, they may not have the motor skills to adequately take care of their teeth. This can cause them to experience pain and discomfort caused by tooth decay they are unable to care for.
Even for senior patients who desire regular dental care, paying for the care can be problematic.
Medicare, the federal government’s public health care system that covers Americans 65 and older, doesn’t include routine dental care, and many seniors lose access to dental coverage through other insurance when they retire. Medicaid, the federal government’s insurance program for low-income Americans, doesn’t require states to provide dental care to adults – only children. However, the state of California recently reinstated fuller dental care services for adults, and Virginia also recently improved access to dental care for its residents.
Nursing homes are required to perform dental screenings and help residents with maintaining their oral health, but that doesn’t always happen. Poor oral hygiene and care can lead to the development of an infection, an inability to properly eat and a loss of dignity for many senior patients no longer able to tend to their oral health.
Fortunately, some efforts are underway to improve senior access to oral health care.
Improved Access To Senior Dental Care
The U.S. Senate has proposed a bill that would include oral health screenings in its reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which helps to fund social and nutrition services for seniors with low incomes. Two other bills were also introduced to Congress that would increase coverage to adults of all ages without dental insurance.
One such bill, proposed by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, would extend dental coverage to all Medicaid and Medicare recipients, increase funding for health clinics offering oral health services and create a loan program specifically for dental students.
So while progress for senior dental care seems to be on the horizon, patients of all ages need to make sure the seniors in their lives have access to dental care they need. If you or someone you love is in need of dental care or you have questions about your oral health, please call us at 503.227.2883.