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Cost Keeping Seniors from Dental Care

Vast majority have no dental insurance, study finds

THURSDAY, March 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Cost is the major barrier that prevents many seniors from getting the dental care they need, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo surveyed 415 individuals over 60 years of age living in Western New York state, and found that more than half of them faced barriers to seeing a dentist.

Overall, expense was the most serious barrier, however. Of seniors surveyed, 402 had no dental insurance.

Younger seniors, especially, "have more apprehension about spending a significant amount of money on dental treatment because they may have retired recently and now are living on a fixed income," study author Kimberley Zittel-Palamara, director of the Counseling, Advocacy, Referral, Education and Service program in the dental school, said in a prepared statement.

Others -- especially older seniors over 75 years of age -- listed lack of transportation and anxiety as barriers to dental care.

"As the loss of driving ability increases with age, so, too, does the need for transportation assistance to the dentist. And in rural areas, the dentists may be more than an hour away. Distance, coupled with difficult winters, may make it even more difficult to get to the dentist," Zittel-Palamara said.

She noted that "this generation of seniors also remembers a time when going to the dentist was associated with painful procedures without anesthesia, resulting in more anxiety about going to the dentist."

But Zittel-Palamara stressed out that, "as wearing dentures increases with age, the likelihood of needing more complex procedures often associated with pain will inevitably decrease."

The study results were presented recently at the International and American Association on Dental Research general session, in Baltimore.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has more about oral health for older adults.

SOURCE: University at Buffalo, news release, March 12, 2005
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