If you’re between 50 and 64, you probably don’t need a lecture on the importance of taking care of your teeth. Dental neglect not only leads to tooth and gum problems but also has been associated with a range of other ailments, including heart disease and certain types of cancer.
So it may not be surprising that a solid majority of Americans in that age group—60 percent—say they get regular cleanings and deal with any dental problems as they arise, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging. The authors of a new report on the survey, published in its September 2017 issue, call such people “prevention-focused.”
Regular checkups help
By contrast, 17 percent of poll respondents practice “inconsistent prevention,” getting only occasional cleanings. The remaining 23 percent are “problem-only” patients, who seek care just when they experience serious dental issues. The survey was based on a nationally representative random sample with a total of 1,066 respondents.
As you might expect, people who went in for regular dental maintenance reported fewer difficulties. Only 29 percent of the “prevention-focused group” said that dental problems had caused them pain, trouble eating, missed work, or other health woes. That percentage rose to 43 percent for the inconsistent prevention group and to 61 percent for the problem-only group.
Cost a major barrier
The major reason for avoiding the dentist, the survey found, was cost. It was cited by 69 percent of people who said they’d delayed or skipped seeking treatment for a dental problem within the past two years. Fear of the dentist figured into it, too, with 20 percent offering that as a rationale. Another 18 percent said they simply didn’t have time to go.
If you need dental care but don’t think you can afford it, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service has a useful list of resources on its website titled, “Where can I find low-cost dental care?” A good source for connecting people 65 and up with affordable dental clinics is ToothWisdom.org, a nonprofit project of Oral Health America.
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Greg Daugherty is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in retirement topics. He has served as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest New Choices retirement magazine, executive editor of Consumer Reports, where he wrote a popular column about preparing for retirement, and senior editor at Money. His work has appeared in Money, Smithsonian, Parade, The New York Times, and NextAve.org, among others.