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Dental pain causes missed work, health issues in older adults: poll

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Ann Arbor, MI – Dental problems have led to pain, difficulty eating, missed work and/or other health problems for more than one-third of adults 50 to 64 years old, according to a recent University of Michigan poll.

Released Sept. 7, the UM National Poll on Healthy Aging showed that, of the 38 percent of respondents who reported experiencing the aforementioned problems in the past two years, 61 percent pursued dental care only after encountering serious issues. In contrast, the symptoms surfaced in 43 percent of respondents who receive occasional teeth cleanings and 29 percent of those who receive regular cleanings.

Overall, 34 percent of respondents reported feeling embarrassed about the condition of their teeth, while 41 percent described their oral health as excellent or very good.

Other findings:

  • 79 percent of respondents said dental care is important to preventing dental problems at their age.
  • 69 percent cited cost as a major factor behind not receiving needed care.
  • 51 percent are unsure of how they will get dental insurance upon turning 65, the age when most Americans become eligible for Medicare coverage; 13 percent expect Medicare or Medicaid to cover dental care as they age past 65.

“Traditional Medicare does not cover dental care, and many states offer very limited or no dental coverage for adults with Medicaid,” Preeti Malani, poll director and UM professor of internal medicine, said in a Sept. 7 press release. “Even those who were diligent about seeing the dentist and had dental insurance throughout adulthood may find it harder to afford dental care as they get older, and coverage options may be more limited.”

The UM Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation conducted the poll of 1,066 respondents in conjunction with AARP and Michigan Medicine, the university’s academic medical center.

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