Medicare Advantage plans and stand-alone private dental insurance plans may be helping more older Americans keep their teeth.
The percentage of Americans age 65 and older who were missing all of their natural teeth fell to 26% during a 2004-2007 survey period, down from 27.6% in 2000-2003.
Older Americans who owned private health insurance, such as Medicare supplement or Medicare Advantage coverage, started out with better oral health and showed a similar level of improvement. The percentage of private insured older Americans who were “edentulous”–toothless–fell to 22.5%, down from 24.1%.
Charlotte Schoenborn and Kathleen Heyman, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, published those figures in a new report on the overall health of U.S. residents ages 55 and older. The researchers drew on results from 36,984 interviews conducted for the 2004-2007 National Health Interview Surveys, and also on 2000-2003 NHIS data.
One factor with an obvious correlation with dental health is income: U.S. residents ages 65 and older who are “not poor” are about twice as likely to have some of their natural teeth as comparable low-income residents, according to the NHIS data.
Age is another key factor.
In part because oral health tends to deteriorate with age, and in part because of changes in dentistry, 32% of privately insured U.S. residents ages 85 and older are missing all of their teeth, compared with just 8% of privately insured U.S. residents ages 55 to 64.
Some of the recent improvement in older Americans’ dental health may be due to use of dental benefits to pay for preventive care.