Dental Care for Seniors Inadequate, According to Study Presented to Senate Committee
Seniors are receiving inadequate dental care largely because only 20% of those ages 75 or older have dental insurance, according to an Oral Health America study released yesterday at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. The study -- the first national study of seniors' dental health care -- gave the nation a D grade for the extent of senior dental coverage (Shields, Baton Rouge Advocate, 9/23). The study also gave failing grades to 14 states and the District of Columbia. Many seniors lose private dental coverage when they retire, and Medicare generally does not cover dental services. In addition, states recently have eliminated many dental services covered by Medicaid because of state budget shortfalls, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. Currently, eight states provide full Medicaid dental benefits to adults, and nine states offer no coverage whatsoever, according to Conan Davis, chief dental officer for CMS. In addition, there are not enough oral health professionals who are properly trained in geriatric dental care, and not all dentists accept Medicaid beneficiaries because of low reimbursements, Robert Klaus, president of Oral Health America, said. According to health officials, poor dental care can lead to misdiagnosed, erroneously treated or untreated diseases. The mouth and face often can indicate conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer, Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research, said. Advocates suggested extending Medicaid dental coverage to the aged, blind and disabled, which Oral Health America estimated would cost about $1 billion (AP/Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said his office considers oral diseases, particularly those affecting the elderly, a "silent epidemic" that kills 8,000 U.S. residents annually and reduces one's quality of life. "Poor oral health care causes millions of vulnerable seniors to suffer needlessly. Too often, these problems are underestimated, ignored or not detected until far too late, resulting in serious disease and even death," Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), the committee's ranking Democrat who presided over the hearing, said (Alpert, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.