One of the most striking aspects of a new Delta Dental survey of senior Americans is the deep sense of regret they feel about their oral health.
According to the report, 72% of senior adults say they wish they had taken better care of their teeth when they were younger, with 41% saying they wish they’d gone to the dentist more. More than a third say the last time they went to the dentist for a routine check-up or cleaning was more than two years ago. This lack of attention comes with its share of regrets.
The survey, which was conducted between June 24 and July 1 of 2022 with 1,010 Americans, highlights the importance of preventive care and carries far-reaching implications for maintaining a healthy workforce. We sat down with Delta Dental’s own Jessica Buehler, DDS, Director of Dental Affairs, to dive deeper.
Dr. Buehler noted that the survey was remarkable for how clearly it showed the prevalent sense of regret among seniors.
Jessica Buehler, DDS
“The seniors surveyed said they didn’t get to the dentist as often as recommended, even when those visits were covered by insurance,” Dr. Buehler said. “Now, the senior population is the least served by insurance and has the biggest access and availability issues. If you show up for those regular visits consistently, the problems that you encounter are manageable with insurance benefits.”
The survey results show how important it is for everyone, especially those nearing retirement, to utilize their benefits and to visit the dentist regularly. As people retire, many of them lose the dental coverage their jobs provide. Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 or older, offers only limited dental benefits.
“The older you are, the more money you’re going to need for your dental care,” Dr. Buehler said. “But older adults are always in the least insured batch of people. They’re not getting the care they need.”
In addition, the survey indicated a widespread lack of understanding among older Americans about the crucial connection between dental health and overall health. A majority (61%) did not know that gum swelling can be linked to diabetes, heart disease and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and almost two-thirds (64%) did not know their dentist can tell if they might have cancer just by examining their mouth.
The survey results make it clear how important it is for younger and older Americans alike to have insurance and to take advantage of services covered by their plans. As Americans age, their access to dental care often decreases: If they’ve neglected dental visits prior to retirement, their problems and expenses can increase exponentially.
It’s important for everyone to have and utilize their plans when they’re young and to begin planning early for coverage in retirement.
“What patients are looking for is a plan that covers all of their needs, but the greatest value in dental insurance is not the annual maximum so much as the overall discount off of normal fees,” said Dr. Buehler. “The discounts patients get by using one of our network providers add up, especially in the older community because of the volume of services that they need. I used to tell my patients to think of insurance as a coupon. You get a discount, so you get some money off, but it doesn’t cover all of the expense related to maintaining an older smile. When we educate patients on the cost of dental care at the various stages of life, it helps them understand the value of their insurance plan.”
Encourage your older clients to consider Delta Dental’s individual plan options, which will give them access to preventive care and will often offer them discounted rates on other procedures.
Our broker resources page is your one-stop hub for selling individual and family plans. You can help your senior clients navigate their options to find the plan that best suits their needs:
Delta Dental is dedicated to supporting the health of seniors and making sure members of all ages feel empowered to protect their oral health.
Through regular preventive care, your clients’ oral health can stay in great shape, up to retirement and beyond. You can help ensure that your senior clients’ smiles remain bright and healthy and that they look back without regret.
“Getting into the dentist twice a year and using benefits to maintain health is key for younger people,” Dr. Buehler said. “The health of your mouth and your gums has a direct and well-documented association with many major health conditions that affect older adults: diabetes, heart disease. Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis. When we take care of our oral health, our bodies can direct more resources to support these other conditions.”