Survey: Most Americans connect oral health to overall health

Nov. 9, 2006
The study shows that Americans tend to see their dentists regularly, and reveals oral health differences along gender and generational lines.

NEW YORK--Some 89% of Americans make the connection that their overall health is linked to their dental hygiene, according to a consumer dental survey entitled "Benefits and Behavior: Spotlight on Dental," released recently by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. 

The study shows that Americans tend to see their dentists regularly and reveals oral health differences along gender and generational lines.

Benefits and behavior
Seven in 10 adult consumers report making a visit to the dentist at least annually, with a surprising 47% of consumers saying they visit the dentist every six months. Women visit dentists more frequently than men. From the survey, 73% of the women compared to 66% of the men surveyed visit the dentist on a regular (once a year or more often) basis.

Lack of coverage is the foremost reason why those without dental insurance limit their visits to the dentist. Among consumers without insurance, 73% said they don't visit the dentist regularly because they are without coverage.

"Open-Enrollment season, the time of year when millions of employees in America have the opportunity to select their workplace benefits, is underway," said John Foley, vice president, Group Dental, Guardian.

"Dental is perennially one of the most popular employee benefits. This is not surprising, especially with such a large percentage of the population now connecting oral hygiene with overall health. Despite escalating healthcare costs, dental insurance continues to be a relatively low cost and highly valued benefit."

Ms. Manners, meet Mr. Hygiene
According to the Guardian survey, roughly 40% of men either brush or floss at work and an equal percentage of women say it's impolite to do either. Men are more inclined to freshen up on the job than are women: 31% of men brush and 30% floss at work, while 26% of women brush and only 22% floss at work.

Tooth-full optimism: retirees with teeth
More than half of those surveyed believe they will have all or most of their teeth at age 70, dropping to 41% at age 80 and 31% at age 90. Older Americans are far more optimistic about keeping their teeth in their retirement years than younger adults.

According to the survey, 81% of younger Americans (age 18-34) expect to have lost at least one tooth by age 80 compared to 68% (age 35-44), 71% (age 45-54), 72% (age 55-64), and 67% of adults age 65 or older. 

"Some things get better with age, but our teeth are not on the list," said Foley. "But Boomers are appropriately optimistic. Due to advances in dentistry such as dental implants, fluoride and sealants, Boomers will usher in an age where retirees can expect to have all or most of their teeth throughout their retirement."

Tooth replacement: vanity or necessity?
When asked about tooth replacement, most (66%) Americans say they consider it a medical necessity, not a cosmetic procedure. Women (70%) were more likely to consider tooth replacement "medically necessary" compared to 61% of men. 

Despite broad consumer agreement that tooth replacement is a necessity, seven in ten dental insurance policyholders either say their insurance doesn't cover dental implants or they do not know whether or not it does.

"Dental implants are widely accepted by the dental profession as one of the most effective procedures for the replacement of missing teeth," said Richard Goren, DDS, second vice president, Group Dental, Guardian. 

"But, while technologically and aesthetically close to a real tooth, many insurers do not provide dental implant coverage as part of their standard insurance package. It is likely, that some of the consumers with dental insurance who believe that they have dental implant coverage do not have insurance for the procedure. Some insurers simply provide discounts on dental implants as opposed to insurance coverage."

In 2004 Guardian began offering dental implant insurance as part of its standard coverage. 

Dental implants are an expensive procedure and many plan members would exceed their annual maximums if they elected to have implant surgery.

Guardian is one of less than a handful of companies that offer annual maximum rollover programs that allow consumers to save up their annual maximums for costly procedures such as dental implants.

Added Dr. Goren, "It is also critical for an insurance carrier to promote overall oral health. When you have a client base that uses their benefits regularly for routine cleanings, fluoride treatments and other preventive treatments, then you won't have a large portion of your customers needing more expensive procedures such as dental implants."

The Guardian survey represents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national sample of 1,023 adults comprising 508 men and 515 women, 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. 

Interviewing for this survey was completed from Sept. 21-24.