Regular Dental Visits Can Result in Savings for Older Adults

Preventive dentistry can help patients maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy body.

Now there’s another reason for older adults to take care of their teeth: doing so can affect the pocketbook. A recent study shows that older adults can actually lower their overall dental expenses with preventive dental care and more routine dental visits.

The finding comes from an analysis of the public records of Medicare beneficiaries by researchers from the University of Maryland. Medicare beneficiaries who used preventive dental care had more dental visits but fewer visits for expensive nonpreventive procedures and lower dental expenses than beneficiaries who saw the dentist only for treatment of oral problems.

“For many retirees, paying for dental care treatment can be difficult,” said John Moeller, Ph.D., a research professor at the UM Dental School who conducted the analysis with colleagues in the university’s Health Services Research Division.

“Without assistance, older Americans, who are poorer, may choose to delay or forgo dental care,” said Dr. Moeller, “but postponing dental care may lead to expensive complications.”

Adding dental coverage for preventive care to Medicare could pay off in terms of improving the oral health of the elderly population and limiting the costs of expensive nonpreventive dental care, Dr. Moeller said.

When it comes to data regarding the impact of preventive dental care visits, younger people have traditionally been the focus. That’s why Dr. Moeller and his colleagues Haiyan Chen, M.D., and Richard Manski, D.D.S., pursued their study.

“We felt that insufficient attention has been paid to the possibility that preventive dental care may limit expensive nonpreventive dental care procedures among an older population,” they wrote in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The American Dental Association is a strong advocate for preventive dentistry. By adopting healthy oral habits at home, making smart choices about diet and lifestyle, and seeking regular dental care, people can make their teeth last a lifetime.

Visiting the dentist regularly can help prevent more serious oral health problems, too, such as periodontal disease. Periodontal infections can affect not only the mouth but also overall health. Likewise, increasing medical evidence suggests that an unhealthy mouth may worsen serious medical problems, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

To find a dentist or read more about preventive oral health care, visit ADA.org.

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