University Study Finds Racial Gap in Dentist Visits by Older Americans

Researchers at New York University and the University of Hawaii have released a new study that shows that visits to the dentist decline significantly for senior citizens. And the decline in dental care is significantly higher for African Americans and other underserved groups.

Medicare does not cover most dental care, and only 12 percent of Medicare beneficiaries report having at least some dental insurance from another source to help pay dental expenses.

The study asked more than 20,000 adults over the age of 51 if they had visited a dentist over the past two years. Some 71 percent of participants responded yes. But there was a significant difference between Blacks and Whites.

Bei Wu, Dean’s Professor in Global Health in the Rory Meyers College of Nursing at New York University and the study’s senior author, stated that “racial and ethnic disparities were substantial and persistent as people became older, regardless of their birthplace and while adjusting for a wide range of factors. This finding is alarming as it indicates that some unmeasured factors beyond the scope of this study, such as oral health literacy, perception of need, barriers to access, and dissatisfaction with dental care, could play important roles in explaining the disparities in dental care as people age.

The study, “Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Dental Service Utilization for Foreign-Born and U.S.-Born Middle-Aged and Older Adults,” was published on the website of the journal Research on Aging. It may be accessed here.



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