(Washington, DC) – One-out- of three adults covered by Medicare are not getting regular dental care, according to a new survey by The Seniors Citizens League (TSCL). “We estimate that roughly 20 million older Americans are going without bi-annual cleanings, X-rays, and dental exams,” says Mary Johnson, a Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League. Medicare does not cover routine dental health services, and that often comes as a surprise to new beneficiaries. More than half of survey participants say they do not have any dental insurance coverage.
The high cost of treatment is a frequently cited barrier by those who are not getting the dental care they need. Elizabeth H., a retiree living in Colorado says “I do not have the $7,000 I was told that I needed to get my teeth fixed. They need to either be pulled and a bridge put in, or root canaled. Being on a limited income, I do not see getting any of this done, and so it affects my health negatively. Without dental care, I’m not as healthy as I could be.”
Advancing age puts many retirees at risk of oral health problems. A common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth, a side effect of more than 500 medications. Periodontal disease is widespread, even though it can be prevented with regular visits to the dentist and cleanings. In addition, research shows a strong link between oral health and a host of other diseases.
“Poor oral health makes serious medical conditions more difficult to treat,” Johnson points out. Researchers have found links between gum disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Improved oral care, on the other hand, can reduce medical costs in patients with inflammatory diseases, according to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “To improve health outcomes for beneficiaries and reduce Medicare spending on diabetes and other inflammatory diseases, Medicare needs to cover routine dental care,” Johnson says. More than 81 percent of participants in the survey agree.
The Senior Citizens League strongly supports legislation in both the House and the Senate that would address this issue. H.R. 576 Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) in the House would expand Medicare to provide routine dental care. In the Senate, S.22 Medicare Dental Benefit Act, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (MD) would also provide coverage for dental care.
The Senior Citizens League is a voice in Congress for Americans concerned about their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits. On the League’s website, older Americans can find opportunities to become better informed, to evaluate and voice opinions on major issues affecting Social Security and Medicare. To learn how to get involved, visit www.SeniorsLeague.org.
With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors’ groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit www.SeniorsLeague.org for more information.