Many Skip the Dentist, Blaming Their Wallet

As if fear and anxiety weren’t enough to keep many people away from the dentist, according to a recent news article, basic dental care is often financially out of reach for many as well. A recent poll found that 28% of participants did not have dental insurance, and a whopping 56% didn’t get regular dental care unless there was a serious dental problem.

Erica Solway, senior project manager at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, said that the more worrisome finding was that 51% of people surveyed said they didn’t know how’d they’d get dental insurance after turning 65.

“For the majority of folks, cost was the main barrier to dental care,” Solway said. Possibly the best way to prevent serious tooth or gum problems was through regular checkups and cleanings. “Most dental problems can be prevented by getting regular preventive care,” she added.

Approximately ⅓ of those surveyed between the ages of 50 and 64 said that they were embarrassed by the condition of their teeth. In addition to social factors, many responders also stated that their dental problems have caused pain, difficulty eating, missed work and other health problems.

These findings were released in a recent report from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, which was released on September 7. The poll included more than 1,000 nationwide, ages 50 to 64.

In addition to the startling findings listed above, the report also claims that about 13% of middle-aged adults think Medicare or Medicaid will cover their dental care needs after they turn 65. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Medicare does not cover routine dental care, and the dental coverage through Medicaid is often only available to children.

“Oral health is just as important as other parts of health,” said Dr. Ronald Burakoff, chair of dental medicine at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. “The mouth is a mirror of the body,” he added. For example, if you have an infection in the mouth, it can spread to other parts of the body, he explained.

According to the poll, approximately 60% of the participants got regular preventive care as well as care for problems. White women with high incomes or insurance are most likely to get preventive dental care, while men, blacks, hispanics and those with low incomes or without insurance were more likely to get dental care for problems only.

Other interesting findings included:

  • Of those who got preventive dental care, 13% said they delayed or didn’t get it when needed in the last two years.
  • 69% of those who didn’t get regular dental care said they couldn’t afford it.
  • Other reasons for not receiving care were fear, time or not being able to find a dentist.
  • 16% said employer-based coverage or a retirement-based plan would cover their dental costs after 65.
  • 12% said they would buy supplemental dental insurance after turning 65.
  • 8% said they would go without insurance after turning 65.

Solway noted that dental clinics or dental schools often provide care at lower costs or with a sliding scale based on income. “There are options for people who can’t afford getting care from a traditional dentist’s office,” she said.

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