A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Protecting our Seniors: The Elder Dental Program Speaks up for Oral Health

Protecting our Seniors: The Elder Dental Program Speaks up for Oral Health

September 9, 2010

Many populations are disproportionately hurt by cuts to the MassHealth adult dental program that eliminate services such as fillings, root canals, and dentures. Because oral health is a key piece of overall health and wellness, lack of these services can impact people in a number of ways. Today, Elizabeth Perry, the Program Manager at the Elder Dental Program shares how these cuts are affecting seniors in the Commonwealth.

"As the Program Manager of the Elder Dental Program I often hear from seniors who suffer with missing or decayed teeth. While it is a myth that tooth loss is a natural part of aging there are increased risk factors associated with getting older. Chronic medical conditions, low saliva flow caused by certain medications and poor oral hygiene contribute to oral disease among older adults. According to the CDC, older Americans with the poorest oral health are those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance, and are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized also increases the risk of poor oral health.

Missing teeth make it difficult to chew food, alter the appearance of the face, change speech and leave little to smile about. Difficulty eating can lead to poor levels of nutrition and take away the simple enjoyment of food. Altered speech and appearance can lead to social isolation and depression in this already vulnerable population. In addition, missing teeth can make it difficult to find part time employment, a necessity for many retirees during these challenging economic times.

Our typical client is a 75-year old single woman. In order to qualify for MassHealth her income would be less than $11,000 a year. If she needs a full set of dentures a conservative estimate would put the cost in the neighborhood of $3,000 or about a third of her total yearly income. Cuts to the MassHealth Adult Dental Benefits effectively eliminate dentures for the most vulnerable of our citizens, negatively impacting health and emotional well being. The commonwealth is a national leader in healthcare; we must do better for our elders."

The Elder Dental Program is a community-based, nonprofit program dedicated to helping local elders access quality dental care. The program has a network of local dentists who volunteer to treat low-income elders at significantly reduced fees (major restorative work like new dentures, partials and crowns is referred to the dental schools in Boston). Our current service area includes the Massachusetts communities of Attleboro, Canton, Dedham, Foxboro, Mansfield, Medfield, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Norton, Norwood, Plainville, Rehoboth, Seekonk, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood and Wrentham.

- Elizabeth Perry & Christine Keeves