Why is Preventive Dental Care So Important for Seniors?
One of the wonderful perks of getting older is increased risk for many health issues. For instance, as you age, certain kinds of cancer are more common–especially oral cancer:
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer, accounting for 30,000 newly diagnosed cases each year – and 8,000 deaths. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, facial and oral disfigurement and even death.
Who gets oral cancer?
Anyone can get oral cancer. Heavy drinkers and people who smoke or use other tobacco products are at higher risk. Though it is most common in people over age 50, new research indicates that younger people may be developing oral cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV).
Early detection can save
The good news? The earlier oral cancer is detected and treated, the better the survival rate – which is just one of the many reasons you should visit your dentist regularly. Twice-yearly dental checkups are typically covered with no or a low deductible under most Delta Dental plans.
As part of the exam, your dentist will check for oral cancer indicators, including feeling for lumps or irregular tissue in your mouth, head and neck. A biopsy will be recommended if anything seems concerning or out of the ordinary.
If it isn’t treated this cancer can cause pain, the loss of salivary function, and the need for tissue removal, which can cause disfigurement. But Delta Dental says that if patients get checked often for early signs by their dentists, then oral cancer can be stopped in its tracks.
So what’s the issue? Not enough seniors actually have dental care that would help them discover and stop cancer:
A new study published in the December edition of Health Affairs analyzed access to dental care for Medicare beneficiaries, and the findings don’t look good. Only about 10% of older U.S. adults have dental insurance, and, of those who do, they still pay half of all their dental costs out of pocket.
The researchers looked at Medicare data to see how seniors with different income levels and types of insurance access dental care. They attributed the overall lack of coverage and high percentage of out-of-pocket spending to larger policy trends, including the exclusion of dental care in Medicare and the changing of insurance benefits for retirees.
“Despite the wealth of evidence that oral health is related to physical health, Medicare explicitly excludes dental care from coverage, leaving beneficiaries at risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease and exposed to high out-of-pocket spending,”
“Until dental care is appropriately considered to be part of one’s medical care, and financially covered as such, poor oral health will continue to be the ‘silent epidemic’ that impedes improving the quality of life for older adults.”
Clearly there needs to be a change in the general attitude concerning the need for care. Everyone can do their part to make dental care more viable for seniors.
If seniors cannot afford a plan, they need to do everything in their power to still get adequate care, such as looking at payment plans, seeking out low-cost care at dental schools, applying for government aid, maintaining good oral care at home, and so on. If you are senior, you should make oral cancer check-ups a natural part of your to-do list. You can find more information about oral cancer screenings at lagunavistadental.com/services/preventive-dentistry/oral-cancer/