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Improve Access to Dental Care, AARP Tells Congress

Doctor checking up patient at dentist office
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En español | Good oral health impacts more than a smile. It brings a host of health benefits as people age, including a lower risk of dementia, diabetes and heart disease, research suggests. But many older adults can’t afford regular dental care — or they live someplace where dentists are in short supply.

That’s why AARP is urging Congress to make dental care more affordable and available.

We submitted a letter to U.S. Senate lawmakers last week ahead of a committee hearing on the dental care crisis in America. In our letter, we urged Congress to:

  • Make routine dental coverage a standard benefit in Medicare

  • Require that a “robust” minimum standard of dental benefits be included in private health insurance plans

  • Encourage states to include adult dental coverage in subsidized health plans for lower-income residents

AARP is also pushing Congress to address a shortage of dentists in many parts of the country. States such as Maine, Minnesota and Vermont, for example, allow dental therapists to provide basic dental services, such as fillings and extractions.

Dental therapists are trained to help dentists provide routine services in the same way physician assistants work with doctors to provide primary medical care.

“Allowing these practitioners to work in areas currently underserved by dentists — particularly in geographically isolated and rural areas — will enable many more people, including older adults, to obtain high-quality oral health care,” wrote AARP senior vice president for government affairs Bill Sweeney.

AARP has long urged Congress to improve older Americans’ access to dental care, especially for those receiving Medicare. Thanks in part to our advocacy, medically necessary dental care, such as in preparation for an organ transplant or cancer treatment, is now covered under Medicare Part B.

But routine care such as cleanings, X-rays and fillings still isn’t covered, and more needs to be done, Sweeney told lawmakers. “Every American deserves accessible and affordable health care — from head to toe,” he wrote.

Read our letter and keep up with AARP’s health coverage.

Natalie Missakian covers federal and state policy and writes AARP’s Fighting for You Every Day blog. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Haven Register and daily newspapers in Ohio. She has also written for the AARP Bulletin, the Hartford Business Journal and other publications.

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