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Aging and Insurance Disparities: The Example of Dental Health

There is a lot we have to do to take care of ourselves these days. Current recommendations regarding optimal health include eating multiple fruits and vegetables, getting a lot of uninterrupted sleep (in a dark room, no less), plenty of moderate exercise and not smoking or drinking alcohol (though alcohol guidelines vary from moderate use to not at all depending on the study). We also need to manage depression, anxiety and stress, as these contribute toward health risks.  Now, added to this list, we need to be concerned about our mouths.

Brushing our teeth, flossing, and managing periodontal (gum) disease is now thought to increasingly protect us and lengthen our lifespans.

As if we need something else to worry about.

The reality is, taking care of our teeth and gums is essential to overall health.  Here’s why:

Not dealing with periodontal disease can increase the risk of heart disease. This is assumed to be due to an increased inflammatory response, which is a consequence of gum disease though scientists have not clearly identified the reasons for this connection.  Additionally, managing gum disease is thought to prevent the onset of pneumonia. Pockets of periodontal disease can get populated by various bacteria, which when aspirated, can cause severe pneumonia.

The bottom line is to take care of your teeth and gums.

Although I am appreciative of any new health information that can help us all live longer and combat disease, I can’t help but think about the ways in which dental care is subject to the extremes of classism and medicine.  Most people do not have dental insurance, and those over 65-years of age have even less access to dental care.  Patients who only have Medicare often are without good access to dentists.

Clearly, caring for our teeth and gums is important.  However, what does it mean that major insurance carriers still do not cover dental care, especially given it’s vital importance for the health of all of us?

Is this just one more example of how the wealthy get to remain well and live longer?   The well-off can afford teeth cleanings and the exorbitant costs of periodontal care, such as gum grafting.  But what about the majority of the population who cannot afford such care?

If dental care is so important and prolongs life, why then, are health insurance companies not providing coverage? Dental care has often been considered separate and split off from basic medical care. This would seem inappropriate given the current understanding of dental health.

Is anyone holding healthcare companies responsible?  Given the high profits many health insurance companies are making, I am not sure that dental hygiene is on the radar screen.  It should be.

Aging and Insurance Disparities: The Example of Dental Health

Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D.

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APA Reference
Greenberg, T. (2019). Aging and Insurance Disparities: The Example of Dental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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