Every 10 years the White House hosts a Conference on Aging, with the next meeting coming up in July 2015. This important conference covers issues such as retirement security and healthy aging. As in past years, however, oral healthcare isn't on the agenda. To try to correct this serious oversight, Oral Health America (OHA), a national nonprofit foundation that works to educate Americans about the importance of oral health to overall health and well-being, is reaching out to the dental community to petition the conference organizers to add oral healthcare to the agenda.
Oral Health America has launched a website where you can add your name to the list of healthcare providers who recognize the importance of oral health being included in any discussion of aging. The deadline to sign this petition is Monday, November 17.
The OHA President and CEO Beth Truett spoke with DrBicuspid.com as to why her organization launched this effort.
"What we find is that, in all conferences on healthcare, oral health is routinely left out of the conversation and discussed after the fact," she said. "So we decided that it was time to get ahead of the curve and to bring the dental community together and say, 'You can't have a topic called healthy aging without talking about oral health.' "
Having the topic added is only the first step, Truett noted, and the next is to have a conversation with conference organizers about the details of what OHA recommends should be discussed.
The aging population of the U.S. is often discussed, but now is the time to address this topic, she said.
"Never before has there been as many people retiring," Truett said. "Every day 10,000 people retire. The NADP [National Association of Dental Plans] this summer confirmed that only 9.8% of those newly retired have a dental benefit when they do so."
She also cited research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation that measured the importance of lifelong oral healthcare.
"We did some research looking at the implications for cost within the Medicare medical system," Truett said. "One of the best documents was done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which illustrated that when a person becomes 85, the comparative Medicare cost for that person is in the neighborhood of $12,000 annually. When that person is 65, the costs are around $5,000."
The reasons for the lower costs at age 65 might include that people may still be working, they may be healthier, and their financial situation may be more secure than it is 20 years later, she said.
"If dental begins to follow medical, and the eldest old (85+) cost more than double to treat than the people who just become old, this is going to become a tsunami -- a silver tsunami," Truett said.
The point with the Kaiser Family Foundation survey is that medical costs more than double with Medicare medical insurance. If dental costs follow medical and there is no insurance, chances are good that many older adults will forego care, threatening their overall health and also oral health.
Now is the time to begin to address these issues, as the first wave of baby boomers turned 65 only in 2011, Truett noted.
"We are looking at what happens when we go forward from 2011 to 20 years from now when the baby boomers are 85," she said. "It's an overwhelming thought that [oral health]care will not be covered and people will need treatment that they can't get to maintain their overall health."
As more is known about the link between oral and systemic health, it is more important than ever for dentistry to have a seat at the table, Truett said.
"You can't talk about diabetes without talking about oral health," she said. "You can't talk about coronary artery disease without talking about oral health. We need to make the case that this is an issue."