Oral health is an integral part of overall health. Oral health problems can adversely affect one’s ability to maintain optimal nutrition, self-image, social interactions, and mental and physical health. Oral health problems can lead to chronic pain, tooth loss and serious infections. Poor oral health can even worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Older adults need timely and affordable access to dental care in order to maintain their health and well-being, yet, there is currently no mechanism for most older adults to access care. Contrary to what many believe, Medicare does not include an oral health benefit. Most older adults cannot afford to purchase private oral health insurance or pay out-of-pocket for the care they need. As a result, 70 percent of Medicare recipients have limited or no dental coverage, and fewer than half see a dentist each year.
A new White Paper, An Oral Health Benefits in Medicare Part B: It’s Time to Include Oral Health in Health Care discusses how a Medicare Part B dental benefit would close disparities in dental use and expense between the uninsured and insured and among older adults with few financial resources and limited oral health education. The paper also details how such a benefit could be structured and the legislative changes that would need to happen before such a benefit could be established.