If you’re noticing more seniors walking around with their own teeth, it’s not a coincidence. Between 50% and 75% of all nursing home residents today keep their teeth well into their senior years. However, long-term care facilities often lack the time and resources to provide adequate oral hygiene. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 70% of long-term care residents are not provided with acceptable dental care.
However, this issue does not always come up as a top priority for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Many administrators, owners and directors view oral health as low on the priority list for health. Isn’t declining oral care just a natural part of aging? No, it isn’t. If more facilities focused on dental care, they would find that it is not an extreme burden to focus some efforts on simple oral hygiene.
Some facilities invest in this care. For example, Senior Dental Care LLC, is a management company created to help dentists provide the highest quality care for seniors in certain communities. Senior Care coordinates with nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and local community centers to provide on-site dentistry. Their goal is to provide quality dental care within a facility to minimize costs from neglecting this service. The basic plan at these types of companies covers treatments, preventative work and some emergencies.
The problem arises in cost. Medicare, the largest program of health care for seniors, doesn’t provide any dental care. Neither do Medicare Advantage managed plans. Seniors who don’t have dental coverage through a pension plan may need to purchase their own dental coverage from a private insurance company. Individual plans come in several forms, including HMOs and PPOs.
These types of organizations offer coverage specifically for seniors, including plans that anyone over age 65 is guaranteed eligibility. However, many seniors do not purchase this supplemental insurance. It is then left to the facility to cover the cost in the case that dental problems
Oral health is very preventative, which adds more emphasis on the idea of investing in hygiene and examinations. In addition, oral health is closely linked to overall health for seniors. Tooth loss can occur due to lack of proper dental hygiene. Diabetes and cancer are two health conditions that can contribute to poor oral health in seniors. Medications for various health problems can also cause dental problems, such as dry mouth. This condition can contribute to the development of periodontitis and cavities. Heart disease is a major illness for adults and seniors. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women. Numerous research studies have shown a connection between heart disease and key bacteria in periodontal disease.
The 2000 Surgeon General’s report, Oral Health in America, has called attention to the connection between oral health and overall health. The report states that, if left untreated, poor oral health is a “silent X-factor promoting the onset of life-threatening diseases which are responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans each year.”
Jennifer Vishnevsky is a guest blogger for www.topdentists.com.