Analysts at Gallup Inc. have come up with support for an important long-term care (LTC) planning principle: People with good teeth, and good gums, tend to need less LTC.
Older Americans who do end up needing LTC tend to need less medical care when they enter that stage of life with good oral health.
Gallup, Princeton, N.J.. has published data on the link between oral health and overall health later in life in a report by Elizabeth Mendes and Kyley McGeeney. The analysts based on the report on results from Gallup surveys of 150,984 adults ages 65 and older who live in the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia.
The analysts looked at how answers to questions about various wellness factors affected whether the participants identified themselves as being in excellent or very good health, or as being in good, fair or poor health.
When Gallup asked seniors about smoking, for example, it found that whether seniors reported smoking had only a modest effect on whether they said they were in excellent or very good health: 43% of the nonsmokers and 35% of the smokers said they were in excellent or very good health, for a gap of 8 percentage points.
The gap was 10 percentage points for participants who "ate healthy all day yesterday," and 15 percentage points for participants said they were "not obese."
The only bigger gaps -- 17 percentage points each -- were for exercise and for visiting the dentist.
About 51% of the seniors who said they exercised 3 or more times per week reported being in excellent or very good health, compared with 34% of the nonexercisers.
When the researchers compared the data for participants who had or had not visited the dentist in the past 12 months, they found that 49% of the participants who'd seen the dentist were in excellent or very good health. Only 32% of the participants who had failed to visit the dentist were in such good health.
The Gallup figures do not directly show whether the participants who'd visited the dentist recently had better oral health than the other participants. The figures also do not show whether good oral health leads to good general health, or if good general health increases the odds that people will get good dental care.
But other academic studies have suggested that there might be a correlation between older people's oral health and LTC costs.
Mary Haumschild and Ryan Haumschild reported in 2009 in JAMDA, an academic journal, that providing medical care for LTC facility residents with good oral health costs less than providing care for residents with poor oral health.
In 2011, Y.H. Yu and others reported in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society that elderly people who still lived in the community and lacked teeth were significantly more likely to report having problems with activities of daily living than otherwise similar elderly people who still had teeth. The researchers said they needed more data to determine whether lack of teeth -- edentulism -- was interfering with activities of daily living, whether disabilities were caused by edentulism, or whether some independent factor was causing both edentulism and problems with activities of daily living.
A small Japanese study found that providing dental care for nursing home patients did appear to have a positive effect on their quality of life.
Idea: Maybe some company that sells both long-term care insurance (LTCI) and dental insurance could try marketing LTCI heavily to people who have a good track record of going to the dentist, then see what the LTCI claims are like for the folks who take good care of their teeth.