Report Studies Oral Health in Older Adults

Oral Health America recently released a report, A State of Decay, a state-by-state ranking of healthcare delivery and public health factors that affect the oral health of older adults.

Some of the Report’s Findings

  • 76% or 38 states earned a Composite Score of Fair (22%) or Poor (54%); Ten states received a Composite Score of Good; Only two states, Minnesota and North Dakota, earned a Composite Score of Excellent, with a 100% and 96% rating respectively.
  • 16% (8 states) cover no dental services through Medicaid and only four states (8%) cover the maximum possible dental services in Medicaid.
  • 84% (42 states) lack a State Oral Health Plan that both mentions older adults and includes SMART objectives. Of the 42 states, 14 lack any type of State Oral Health Plan.
  • The number of Emergency Room Dental (ED) visits continues to rise, from 2.11 million per year in 2010 to 2.18 million in 2012. More than 100 of these dental patients died in the ER, and nearly 85% were there for no additional reason. Total charges for ED visits were $1.6 billion and the average charge per visit was $749. Medicaid accounts for $520 million or about one-third of total ED charges. Even though older adults account for only 4.5% of total charges, the average charge among elderly adults was almost twice that as for younger age groups.
  • Oral Health America’s 2015 public opinion survey found that 52% of people aged 50 and older either did not know or believed that Medicare covers routine dental healthcare. Less than 1% of dental services are covered by Medicare.

The Report Offers Six Recommendations

  1. Advocate for Financially Viable Oral Health Benefits in Publicly Funded Insurance.
  2. Work to Implement the Oral Health Screenings Provision in the Older Americans Reauthorization Act of 2016.
  3. Sustain Community Water Fluoridation as an Evidence-Based Public Health Practice that Positively Impacts Oral Health at the Population Level.
  4. Support Caregivers through Passage of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act.
  5. Include Specific Language to Ensure Inclusion of Provisions for Older Adults in Every State’s Oral Health Plan.
  6. Establish Continuous Surveillance of Older Adults’ Oral Health by Requiring States to Conduct a Basic Screening Survey.

The full report is available at

May 25, 2016 – K. Kertesz