Older Americans regret not taking more care of their teeth in their youth, but 80% still don't

Older Americans regret not taking more care of their teeth in their youth, but 80% still don’t

Delta Dental’s first senior oral health survey found that 72% of Americans ages 50 and older wish they had taken better care of their teeth in their youth, but many still don’t. Since oral health is linked to heart, brain and mental health, dentists encourage following the “2-1-2 rule”.

SAN FRANCISCO, September 19, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Americans 50 and Older Realize the Importance of Oral Health, But Are Not Necessarily Taking the Steps to Prioritize It as They Should, According to the Main Oral Health Report -dental from Delta Dental: Older Americans’ Oral Care Regrets, Barriers and Impact. Eighty percent of older Americans don’t visit the dentist as often as recommended today, despite ranking ‘not brushing and flossing more’ as their third biggest regret about their physical health. Our ability to smile and not feel judged by others has a significant impact on our social well-being. The study reveals that two in five people (40%) smile less than when they were younger due to deterioration in their oral health or the appearance of their teeth.

In general, there is a lack of understanding between the connection between oral health and our overall health among older Americans. Two in three (66%) have never discussed their dental visits or oral health with their primary care provider and more than half (55%) say they have never discussed their dental condition. general health or their current medications with their dentist. These are critical gaps as physical, mental and oral health treatments become more integrated to reflect the connections between body, mind and mouth.

Closing these gaps is imperative to building a healthier society, especially for the elderly population. “Our seniors are facing an oral health crisis due to unique challenges and barriers to access that have significant implications for overall health,” says Sarah Chavarria, President at Delta Dental. “We believe that health care is a right for all, which is why improving the quality of oral health care and improving access and resources for this vulnerable and underserved population is a priority for us at Delta Dental.”

Barriers to prioritizing oral health

The survey revealed three main barriers to prioritizing oral health among older Americans:

  1. Lack of understanding between the oral health and globally health link
  2. Health care access including transport, time and physical mobility
  3. negative emotions associated with dental visits

Identifying and understanding oral health barriers for older Americans is the first step in addressing the needs and resources needed to provide quality care to this vulnerable population. Better maintained preventive oral care helps mitigate the risk of potentially more invasive and costly treatments in the future.

Harmful consequences of separating our mouth from our body

Our mouth is a gateway to our body, and diseases that begin in our teeth and gums can have profound and significant impacts on our overall health, social well-being, and quality of life. Despite this, the results suggest that most older Americans could be better informed about the link between oral health and overall health. In fact, most don’t talk to their primary care providers about their dental health, nor do they talk to their dentist about their general health or current medications.

Key findings from the survey of older Americans reveal:

  • Three in five (61%) did not know that swollen gums could be linked to diabetes, heart disease and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • More than 8 in 10 people (83%) say they do not know that gingivitis is contagious and can be transmitted by kissing.
  • Two in five people (40%) don’t know that bacteria from your mouth can spread to other parts of your body.

“Our mouth and our body are not separate entities,” explains Dr. Daniel Croley, chief dentist of Delta Dental. “What happens in our mouths can impact us and vice versa. For example, inflammation of the gums, which can show redness, swelling or even bleeding, can be linked to diabetes, diseases heart disease and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease – a fact that, according to our study, more than three in five older Americans were unaware of. oral health, regular visits to your dentist can help you control these conditions and diseases.”

BIPOC communities face disproportionate barriers to accessing oral health care

As one of the biggest barriers, access to care is a particular concern. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) seniors disproportionately experience difficulty physically accessing their dental care. One in three (30%) older BIPOC Americans use modes other than the car to get to the dentist. Travel times for older BIPOC Americans are longer than for older white Americans — 75% of older white Americans can get to their dentist in 30 minutes or less, compared to 65% of older BIPOC Americans.

Despite these physical barriers to access for BIPOC Americans ages 50 and older, they are much more likely to link their oral health to their physical health. Fifty percent of older BIPOC Americans talk to their dentist about their physical health, compared to just 37% of older white Americans.

This may suggest that cultural differences influence how individuals value these connections, or it could reveal a more problematic issue, speculates Dr. Karen Horace, head of dental policy at Delta Dental: “Statistically, many black patients have less access to healthcare professionals than white patients and those from other less marginalized communities,” she says. “So when they see their doctor or dentist, it’s highly likely that many will take this opportunity to bring all their health issues with them.”

The link between oral health and emotional and mental health

Our oral health not only impacts our overall health, but also how we perceive ourselves and connect with others. Nearly two in five (37%) older Americans say they’re worried about being judged negatively based on the appearance of their teeth, and nearly three in ten (30%) feel like they can’t connect with other people because they feel too embarrassed to smile or laugh.

Emotions also come into play when making the decision to schedule a dental visit – fear and anxiety get in the way. Forty-six percent of respondents say the main reason they don’t go to the dentist is that they dislike or fear going to the dentist. Notably, today’s innovation in dentistry has made the experience of sitting in the dental chair less painful and less frightening. And regular checkups with a dentist prevent problems from getting worse and requiring invasive treatments.

It’s never too late to improve: follow the “2-1-2 rule”

Prioritizing our oral health, no matter what stage of life we ​​find ourselves in, will improve our quality of life in many impactful ways. For older (and younger) Americans looking to improve their oral health, Delta Dental recommends everyone follow the “2-1-2” rule: brush for two minutes, floss at least once a day and see your dentist for check-ups twice a year.

Delta Dental is committed to providing seniors with consistent, quality access to oral health care, improving education, and driving lasting policy change to address systemic issues. To learn more about the survey, see Full report from Delta Dental and fact sheet.


Dental Dental’s Seniors Oral Health Survey reflects feedback from Americans aged 50 and older and provides insight into how older Americans prioritize, access and think about their oral health and how it affects how they perceive themselves. Delta Dental commissioned Atomik Research, an independent market research agency, to conduct an online survey of a national sample of 1,010 Americans aged 50 or older, representative of the racial/ethnic composition and gender of the elderly population through United States. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% confidence interval. The fieldwork took place between June 24e and July, 1stst of 2022.

About Delta Dental:

Since 1955, Delta Dental of California and Affiliates has provided comprehensive, high-quality oral health care coverage to millions of enrollees and built the strongest network of dental providers in the country. Delta Dental California the business includes its subsidiaries Delta Dental Insurance Company, Delta Dental of PennsylvaniaDental Delta of New YorkInc., as well as the national DeltaCare UNITED STATES network and provides dental benefits to more than 40 million people in 15 states and the District of Colombia.* All are members of the Delta Dental Plans Association based in Oak Brook, Ill., the national non-profit association that, through a nationwide network of Delta Dental companies, collectively serves millions of people nationwide. For more information about Delta Dental from California and its affiliates, please visit www.deltadentalins.com.

*Delta dental California the operating areas include Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Colombia.

Media Contact:
Kinga Skowronek
Public Relations Manager
[email protected]

SOURCEDelta Dental from California

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