Oral Health of Older Americans in 'State of Decay'
New Website to Help Find Care
Older adults face significant health challenges if
their oral health is poor, and there is no coordinated program to help
fund necessary services.
Oct. 9, 2013 - The oral health of older Americans is in a state
of decay, according to a new national report released today by Oral
Health America (OHA). It finds more than half of the country received a
"fair" or "poor" assessment when it comes to minimal standards affecting
dental care access for older adults.
A State of Decay, a state-by-state analysis
of oral healthcare delivery and public health factors impacting the oral
health of older adults also finds Florida
areas with large older adult populations, rank in the bottom five states
due to a shortage of oral health coverage, a strained dental health work
force, and deficiencies in prevention programs.
"While we are seeing improvements in certain areas
of older adult dental care, there is still a lack of progress in
advancing the oral health of such a vulnerable population," said Dr.
Ira Lamster, Professor, Department
of Health Policy and Management, Columbia
University, Mailman School of Public Health.
"Older adults face significant health challenges if
their oral health is poor, and there is no coordinated program to help
fund necessary services."
A State of Decay gave
a rating of "fair," "poor," "good," or "excellent" based on state level
data analyzing five variables impacting older adult oral health: adult
Medicaid dental benefits, inclusion of older adult strategies in state
oral health plans, edentulism (loss of teeth), dental health
professional shortage areas, and community water fluoridation.
The final evaluations in the
report for each state are mixed, with several states performing well in
some variables, but still in need of improvement in other important
The top findings of this report that require
scrutiny and action are:
Persistent lack of oral health coverage across much of the nation.
Forty-two percent of states (21 states) provide either no dental
benefits or provide only emergency coverage through adult Medicaid
Strained dental health work force. Thirty-one states (62
percent) have high rates of Dental Health Provider Shortage Areas (HPSAs),
meeting only 40 percent or less of dental provider needs.
Tooth loss remains a signal of suboptimal oral health. Eight
states had strikingly high rates of edentulism, with
West Virginia notably having an adult population that is
33.8 percent edentate.
Deficiencies in preventive programs. Thirteen states (26
percent) have upwards of 60 percent of their residents living in
communities without water fluoridation (CWF), despite recognition for 68
years that this public health measure markedly reduces dental caries.
Hawaii (89.2 percent) and
New Jersey (86.5 percent) represent the highest rates of
citizens unprotected by fluoridation, an unnecessary public peril.
Only two percent retire with dental benefit
Daily, 10,000 Americans
retire and only 2 percent do so with a dental benefit plan. The State
of Decay analysis provides a tool for states to use in addressing
shortfalls in oral health status, dental professional access sites,
dental benefits for low-income adults, and population-based prevention,
all of which affect the oral health of older adults, the fastest growing
segment of the American population.
Website to help senior citizens find dental care
To help older adults and
their caregivers address oral health needs and overcome many of the
barriers to accessing affordable dental care, OHA launched
toothwisdom.org. The website is a first-of-its-kind online tool that
connects older adults to dental care and educates on the importance of
maintaining oral health with age.
The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA)
and Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA) supported OHA and the
launch of the website by encouraging their members to provide meaningful
articles for the toothwisdom.org.
"Dental Hygienists have the
opportunity to assist older Americans with the oral health challenges
they may face as they age,"" said
Ann Battrell, Executive Director,
American Dental Hygienists' Association. "We're all committed to sharing
the message that oral health matters and changing the common
misperception that with age comes a decline in oral health."
Few websites focus on oral
and systemic health topics, and even fewer provide resources for older
adult oral health. Toothwisdom.org offers oral care resources by state
including direct links to dental care, caregiving support, financial
tools, social services, and transportation. It also shares the latest
news and reliable health information from dental experts across the
country on relevant oral health issues, the importance of continuing
prevention with age, and the impact of oral health on overall health.
"My dental procedures have
been very costly and I had to contact a social worker to help me
understand my bills. Dental care should be more available and affordable
because we know poor dental care affects overall health, which is
particularly important for seniors," said senior
Patricia Cosgrove, a client of The
Carter Burden Center for the Aging, Inc. "Toothwisdom.org can help me
find a community health center so I can finally get an affordable
check-up and stay up-to-date on oral health information."
A State of Decay and
toothwisdom.org are part of Oral Health America's Wisdom Tooth
Project, an initiative designed to meet the oral health challenges of a
burgeoning population of older adults with special needs, chronic
disease complications, and a growing inability to access and pay for
► Links to the
2003 and 2013 editions of A State of Decay can be viewed on
About OHA's Wisdom
Tooth Project For 55 years, Oral Health America has been the leading national
non-profit dedicated to improving the oral health and well-being of
Americans throughout the entire spectrum of life. Over the decades, the
organization has evolved and adapted to the dynamic nature of our
country's demographics and specific health needs. The Wisdom Tooth
Project was born in 2010 due to the current and future implications of
an aging population and the need for oral health resources for them mean
that we must take meaningful action now.
About Oral Health
America OHA is a national, non-profit association dedicated to changing
lives by connecting communities with resources to increase access to
oral health care, education, and advocacy for all Americans, especially
those most vulnerable. For more information about Oral Health America,
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