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Older Adults Delayed Dental Visits More Than Any Other Care During the Pandemic

close up of woman getting a dental exam
Photo courtesy: NOSYSTEM IMAGES / E+/ GETTY IMAGES PLUS

While older Americans have long faced barriers to care, it’s no surprise that lockdowns and restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated medical and dental conditions experienced by this patient population. To better understand these challenges, the Boston-based nonprofit CareQuest Institute for Oral Health has issued a new report that explores the pandemic’s effects on the oral health of the country’s seniors. The research brief, “Many Older Adults Delayed Dental Care During the Pandemic,” analyzes responses from three surveys of Medicare participants. The data reveal the pandemic led to delays in healthcare, especially dental services, as more than one in five Medicare participants—13 million people—delayed some form of healthcare due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. In addition, among older adults who put off healthcare, 44% (5.7 million people) delayed dental services more than any other type of care.

The authors suggest that postponing care will likely result in a spike in oral disease among older adults. Furthermore, these delays will almost assuredly result in disease that is more severe and, therefore, more costly and difficult to treat. Advocating for the inclusion of dental benefits under Medicare to help address these issues, the institute notes its polling shows eight in 10 voters favor adding dental services to Medicare. It also reports that more than 26 million Medicare beneficiaries lack oral healthcare coverage. While the brief examines potential solutions, there is reason for optimism, as the widespread loosening of pandemic restrictions has already increased access to care—as well as patient confidence to seek professional oral health services.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. July 2022; 20(7)10.

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