Elementary students learn about George Washington and that he was the first President of the United States. They can tell the story about how he chopped down a cherry tree and declared that he “could not tell a lie.” That story about Washington stands out for kids, along with the fact that George Washington had wooden dentures.
Although tall tales and legends have obscured many facts about Washington, the story of those wooden false teeth stands out in American lore. The teeth were in truth the very best to be had in that time and were made using the teeth of various animals. They were painful to wear and impossible to keep clean, but a general lack of dental hygiene made dentures a necessity for many people in the early days of American independence.
Today we understand that dental health and care can have an important impact on our health. As we age, oral hygiene becomes even more important as our teeth begin to show the effects of time. For seniors, regular exams by a dentist and treatment of dental problems should be a priority in maintaining their overall health and helping prevent more serious health problems.
To help keep an aging population in good health, affordable health care for seniors is an ever more important issue. Good oral health is imperative to good general health and seniors are facing serious problems in getting the affordable dental care they need. Many seniors lose their dental coverage when they retire. Neither standard Medicare nor Medicaid offers comprehensive dental coverage. Medicare only covers most dental procedures when they are part of another covered procedure, such as a check-up before heart surgery. Medicaid only offers emergency coverage in most states. Ironically, the Affordable Health Care Act does not offer dental coverage either.
Seniors living on a fixed income are often forced to forego basic dental care, which can cause a myriad of issues, such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, pneumonia, and respiratory problems. Poor dental health can also lead to poor nutrition as people avoid eating foods that cause oral pain from cavities, gum disease, or poorly fitted dentures. The lack of affordable dental health care affects so much more than seniors’ teeth.
Darkened teeth, root decay, gum disease, and dry mouth are just a few of the dental issues faced by seniors. Not all of these are caused simply by age. Dry mouth can be a symptom of many medications. Gum disease can be caused by cancer treatments, diabetes, or anemia. The underlying cause may not be age, but the aging in America need better access to affordable care.
Until a reasonable and affordable solution presents itself, seniors should keep up with their oral hygiene regimen. Brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist for checkups can help prevent more serious oral problems from ever arising.