Boomers should expect more from their teeth.
Financial services professionals who work with baby boomers ought to make sure that boomer clients get a chance to chew on that message, according to John Foley, vice president of group dental insurance at Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York.
Many affluent boomers already understand the importance of oral health and act on that knowledge, but “we’re looking to come up with messages that we can use to educate brokers,” Foley says.
When researchers at Guardian commissioned a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older in September 2006, they found that only 48% of the participants in the 45-54 age group, who were all boomers, said they expect to have most or all of their own teeth at age 80. Only 42% of the participants in the 35-44 age group, which included many younger boomers, said they thought they would have most of their teeth at age 80.
The researchers who conducted a National Health Interview Survey found in 2004, the latest year for which detailed statistics are available, that about 21% of the participants in the 65-74 age group and about 31% of participants ages 75 and up were “edentulous,” or “missing all natural teeth.”
But improvements in dental care, nutrition and overall medical care already are starting to reduce the ranks of the edentulous.
The percentage of U.S. adults ages 65 and older who are without natural teeth has fallen to about 28% in 2003, from 46% in the early 1970s, according to Health, United States, 2006, a report published by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Although low-income, uninsured adults are more likely than other adults to lack teeth, about 21% of adults who were “not poor” were edentulous in 2003, according to an NCHS report on the health of older adults published in April 2006.
In 1999, a more detailed “behavioral risk” report found that 7.7% of the adults in the 65-74 age group with annual incomes over $50,000 had no teeth, and 13% of the adults in that age group with annual incomes of $35,000 to $49,999 had no teeth.
For now, “there’s no causal proof” that improving dental health improves overall physical health, Foley says.
Many of the studies that seem to show that improvements in dental health correlate with improvements in conditions such as diabetes focus on groups of patients who start with lower incomes and less access to dental care than the typical financial professional’s boomer client.
But Guardian researchers found that 89% of the participants in the dental coverage survey agreed that there is a connection between oral health and overall health.
A University of Maryland study published in the January 2003 Journal of the American Dietetic Association concludes that adults with full dentures or other forms of dental impairment are far less likely than other adults to get enough Vitamin C, Vitamin A and folic acid, and far more likely to eat too much salt and cholesterol.