Texas lags behind in oral health for seniors

2017 11 30 23 48 2503 Texas Flag 400

Texas has some work to do if it wants to improve the oral health for older adults in the state. Bianca Rogers, a public affairs manager for Oral Health America, gave tips on how the state can improve key metrics related to oral health for this population during a June 26 webinar.

The webinar, hosted by the Repository of Oral Health Data Evaluation & Outcomes (ROHDEO), delved into why Texas ranked 46th in "A State of Decay, Vol. IV," Oral Health America's latest report assessing the dental health of Americans age 65 and older. While Texas ranked near the bottom, Rogers sees the low ranking as an opportunity for Texas to generate discussion and create change.

"These are the overall results," Rogers said to webinar attendees. "Texas is ranked as 46th this year. We really hope you're motivated by this and not discouraged."

Understanding Texas' ranking

Bianca Rogers, public affairs manager, Oral Health America.Bianca Rogers, public affairs manager, Oral Health America.

Oral Health America has published reports on seniors' oral health since 2003. The latest report accounted for six key variables: severe tooth loss, annual dental visit, adult dental Medicaid benefits, community water fluoridation, state oral health plan, and basic screening survey.

The six metrics were weighted equally and combined into the state's overall score. Texas was ranked 46 out of all 50 U.S. states for oral health for older adults, according to Oral Health America's analysis.

About one-third of older adults in Texas experienced severe tooth loss, which is on par with that for the U.S. as a whole, and almost 80% of Texas communities have fluoridated water. However, Texas also had no dental Medicaid benefits for adults, no state oral health plan, and no basic screening survey as of 2017.

"There hasn't been a big change, so progress is needed," Rogers said. "In 2015, Texas ranked 43rd, and this past one, Texas ranked 46th."

Moving forward

The good news is that Texas has already made steps to improve its score. The state plans to conduct its first basic screening survey in 2018. However, Rogers believes Texas needs to do more to improve its score, including creating a state oral health plan with measurable objectives.

“It's important for a state to set a state oral health plan.”
— Bianca Rogers, Oral Health America

"It's important for a state to set a state oral health plan," she said. "From that, you can start to build your goals and your objectives. ... It's always good to have a piece that you're centered around and working toward."

There is also still hope that Texas can turn around its score in a short period of time because other states have done so in the past. Notably, Alabama jumped almost 20 spots, from 48 to 30, between the 2015 and 2018 reports.

In that time, key stakeholders, including policymakers, public health advocates, and clinicians, came together to create a state oral health plan with measurable objectives. Then, the University of Alabama made a push to get grants for portable dental equipment to provide care to seniors.

"There are lots of opportunities for Texas and for stakeholders in your state to come together and do the same thing," Rogers said.

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