The number of older adults in America is growing as baby boomers are retiring or nearing retirement, but seniors' dental care is falling behind other segments of the U.S. population, according to a study by the organization Oral Health America.
About one-third of the states were rated as offering poor dentistry services to older Americans, with Mississippi at the bottom of the list and Tennessee and Alabama tied for second to last. Other states among the 17 that garnered a "poor" service rating are Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Delaware, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Montana, Kentucky, Maine, Virginia and California.
"Some of this 'poor' care is in direct relation to the economic changes our country has experienced," Beth Truett, president and CEO of Oral Health America, told CNN. "A lot of it, though, stems from the fact that some people see this as a tangential kind of medical care."
The latest report is a follow-up to one done 10 years ago by OHA,which examined dental costs and insurance reimbursement rates. The 2013 version of "A State of Decay" considers the public health and health care services that affect oral health of seniors. States were evaluated according to the number of seniors who are experiencing total tooth loss, the extent of community water fluoridation, adult Medicaid coverage, access to dentists and whether state dental plans include coverage for older adults.
States that are doing well
Minnesota ranked at the top of the OHA list, based on its widespread number of communities with fluoridated water, a Medicaid program that covers dental care for adults as well as a state oral health plan that includes the older population. However, the report noted that Minnesota still needs more dentists to serve the state.
Maryland was rated as a "close second" to Minnesota in the quality of dental care for its elderly population.
"We wanted to show that there are states that are getting close to having a model kind of care that others could replicate," Truett said.
The OHA report identified low-income people and those in ethnic minorities among the citizens who are most likely to go without dental services. Many adults and their families have no dental insurance because they cannot afford to pay high insurance premiums or out-of-pocket expenses for dental work. For those people, a good alternative is to purchase a discount dental plan that will cover many dentistry services at reduced prices.
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