Bei Wu

Once a person reaches 80 years of age, the frequency of visits to the dentist declines significantly, a recent data analysis has shown.

The researchers examined how often people see a dentist as they age, focusing on data for more than 20,000 U.S. adults aged 51 years and older. They also explored variations by race and country of birth. The results showed that 70% of adults had visited a dentist in the past two years, but this rate decreased significantly beginning around age 80.

While oral health is closely related to overall health status and quality of life, it can be challenging for older adults to visit the dentist, suggested senior study author Bei Wu, Ph.D. Seniors may face barriers such as a lack of access to quality dental care, awareness of the importance of oral health, and dental insurance coverage. Medicare does not cover most dental care, and only 12% of Medicare beneficiaries report having other dental insurance. 

The study showed that these problems appear to be compounded among racial and ethnic minorities, and immigrant populations. In fact, disparities persist as people become older, regardless of their birthplace and while adjusting for a wide range of factors, Wu wrote. “This finding is alarming as it indicates that some unmeasured factors beyond the scope of this study … could play important roles in explaining the disparities in dental care as people age.”

The study was published in Research on Aging.