U.S. dental insurers are bracing for waves of retirees who will insist on sleeping with their teeth in their mouths.
Ted Williams, executive vice president of marketing at Security Life Insurance Company of America, Minnetonka, Minn., chuckles at the notion of boomers meekly accepting the need for dentures.
“My sense is that boomers are going to say, ‘Provider, you try to keep my teeth as long as you can,’” Williams says.
That trend should offer more opportunity for dental insurers and their brokers than risk, because many of the affluent and moderately affluent boomers who will be buying private dental coverage have had good dental coverage all their lives, he says.
For the most part, even though those well-heeled boomers are showing signs of wear and tear, “you’re insuring a mouth that has a pretty good set of teeth,” he adds.
Years ago, many dentists believed that older Americans who were having trouble with their teeth should replace their teeth with dentures. In the 1980s, because of the popularity of dentures, “there weren’t any dental products available for people over age 65,” Williams says.
Today, due in part to past shortcomings in dental care and dental insurance, about 24% of U.S. residents age 65 and over have lost all of their original teeth, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
The situation is improving rapidly, but the most recent government figures available show only 63% of U.S. adults ages 65 and older visited a dentist in 1999.
One popular health insurance quotation site will not even let visitors search for insured individual dental coverage for people over age 65.
In recent decades, dental schools have trained younger dentists to try to save older patients’ natural teeth, Williams says.
Thanks to improvements in the overall level of dental care, especially for lifelong dental plan members, the average U.S. resident over age 65 now has 24 natural teeth left, up from an average of seven in 1960, according to the Delta Dental Plans Association, Oak Brook, Ill.
Meanwhile, researchers are discovering new information about connections between oral health and general health.
Doctors always knew that patients in poor general health tended to suffer from poor dental health. But in the past few years, scientists have published studies suggesting that gum disease and other dental problems might cause or aggravate some general health problems.