Beginning January 1, 2018, Medi-Cal re-instated Denti-Cal benefits for all adults on full Medi-Cal. These benefits had been cut in 2009 due to budget cuts, were partially re-instated in May 2014 and now it’s important to get the word out that full coverage is back. Dental health is an important part of one’s overall health. If tooth decay and tooth loss is left untreated, it can also contribute to other health complications, such as diabetes and hypertension.
One tool to help get the word out is new brochure in English and Spanish that explains the Denti-Cal benefit and how to use it, created by Justice in Aging and California Pan Ethnic Health Network.
Significant Oral Health Issues for California’s Older Adults
A recent report by the Center for Oral Health (COH) found a significant number of older adults in California struggling with oral health problems, despite the return of coverage. In fact, California ranks 30th among the states in terms of dental care for adults. Part of this is due to the lack of dentists who accept Denti-Cal payments and part is due to program complexity and people not realizing coverage has been re-instated.
Awareness of these challenges and the barriers to care help pave the way for making a change. COH’s report, A Healthy Smile Never Gets Old: A California Report on the Oral Health of Older Adults, reviews the status of our state’s elder’s oral health, the barriers to care and provides policy recommendations for change. Some key findings include:
Large numbers of older adults suffer from untreated tooth decay. Half the older adults residing in skilled nursing homes, and more than one in three community-dwelling older adults, are living with untreated tooth decay.
Untreated tooth decay leads to high prevalence of tooth loss in older people. One in three older adults in California’s nursing homes, and 18% of the community dwelling older adults screened, have lost all their natural teeth, most of them due to tooth decay.
Many older adults in California suffer from inability to chew due to poor contact between teeth. Nearly 40% of SNH residents and 18% of community dwelling older adults cannot chew because they do not have a functional contact between their upper and lower back teeth on either side of their mouth.
Majority of older adults need treatment for tooth decay and/or gum diseases. Sixty-five percent (65%) of older adults residing in SNHs and 46% of older adults residing in community-dwelling facilities need treatment for tooth decay and/or periodontal (gum) disease.
Older adults living in rural areas are worse off than those living in urban areas. Nursing home residents in rural counties have more untreated tooth decay and poorer oral health, overall, than their urban counterparts.
One of the many policy recommendations currently being pursued is adding a dental benefit to Medicare. For more information, read the full report. For a list of other oral health resources, see our partners, Justice in Aging’s website section on Oral Health.