Many Elderly Refuse to See a Dentist Because of Cost

A survey of 415 senior citizens in Western New York, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo's School of Dental Medicine, found that more than half faced barriers to seeing a dentist. Not surprisingly, the most serious barrier reported was cost.

The study provides a snapshot of dental care to the elderly that could be relevant anywhere there are high concentrations of low-income older citizens.

Seniors participating in the study, accessed through senior-citizen centers and nutrition centers across the eight counties of Western New York, were 71 percent female, 88 percent Caucasian and 66 percent rural. The data revealed that barriers affect different age groups of seniors in different ways.

Analysis showed that anxiety/depression was the most significant barrier named by early seniors, accounting for more than half the barrier effect. However, as age increased, the impact of anxiety decreased and eventually disappeared, while the importance of transportation/weather increased.

For the middle seniors, the three categories of barriers were nearly equal in importance. It may be that younger seniors have more apprehension about spending a significant amount of money on dental treatment because they may have retired recently and now are living on a fixed income. This generation of seniors also remembers a time when going to the dentist was associated with painful procedures without anesthesia, resulting in more anxiety about going to the dentist.

As the loss of driving ability increases with age, so too does the need for transportation assistance to the dentist. And in rural areas, the dentist may be more than an hour away. Respondents also named lack of dental insurance, anxiety about going to the dentist and not having transportation among the several barriers to receiving dental care that seniors face.

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