Increased age, decreased dental care
By Mirella Chavez ~
I stare out the living room window. Children parade on the grass and tug at Ama’s skirt. It takes me back to that day 14 years ago that changed my life forever… parenthood.
Seeing how much my 66-year old mother thrives as a grandmother gives me anxiety. She does not act a day over 30. How could I not dread getting older, if already at 30 I feel tired and am ready for bed at 8:00 p.m.? It’s not the lack of energy that burdens me; it’s aging as a person of color in today’s world.
It is important to understand health disparities in relation to cultural, generational and linguistic differences because only then can we truly close the gap. The existence of health disparities among persons of color has been long established and attributed to lifestyle, biological susceptibility and structural barriers posed by systems. Latinos have the lowest rate of dental care use; Mexican-Americans (including me) have the lowest rate among Latino subgroups.
My mom went from celebrating her 63rd birthday to learning how to manage multiple chronic conditions by age 64. She was diagnosed and treated for type 2 diabetes, hypertension and severe periodontal disease. That same year, I was diagnosed with prediabetes. It blew my mind. I was borderline diabetic and not even half my mother’s age when she was diagnosed.
I have gone from aspiring to live my best life to now just hoping I will live long enough to see my kids grow. Whether I look at it from the lens of female, Latina or prospective older adult, these are my odds:
- Over 70% of adults 65 and older have periodontal disease. Periodontal Disease is highest among Mexican Americans and Non-Hispanic blacks.
- Approximately 12.2 million Americans 65 and older have diabetes. By the time we reach age 70, more than 50% of Hispanic/Latino women overall have diabetes.
- Though Colorado has one of the lowest rates of older adults with no natural teeth, more than 50% of Hispanic older adults report having lost 6 or more teeth.
The reality is that we are living longer with chronic diseases that impact our physical and oral health, yet two-thirds of Coloradans over the age of 75 do not have dental insurance. This makes it more difficult to access care. Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation is partnering with communities to address disparities like these and improve oral health inequities in Colorado. Two of our partners include Marillac Health and Clinica Tepeyac.
Over the past year, Marillac Health has increased access to oral health care for older adults living on the Western Slope by integrating a denture specialist into the care team. Marillac is the first Federally Qualified Health Center in Colorado to add this position. It’s led to more dental appointments becoming available for new and existing patients. Patients have shorter denture treatment plans, meaning missing teeth are replaced sooner. Hundreds of patients can chew, speak clearly and feel confident smiling again.
Clinica Tepeyac is fully integrating clinical oral hygiene services into its medical clinic to improve the dental health of patients, many of whom suffer from multiple chronic diseases. Tepeyac serves a high Spanish-speaking population as well as multiple generations. The clinic is located in North Denver’s Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, which has been designated a Medically Underserved Area by the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s the only medical clinic providing low-cost oral health care to residents of this community.
The older adult population will grow to almost 94 million by 2060; I will be 73. Sadly, many will not have access to dental care, which will negatively affect their overall health. The fear I have is not of the inevitable aging and health, but rather the avoidable differences in health status and access to care among racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic groups. My mom and I are currently facing this system together today.
It’s time we all open our eyes and mouth wide to helping every Coloradan have a healthy mouth regardless of life circumstances.
– Mirella Chavez is a Program Officer for Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation. Learn more about the foundation’s work to help the people of Colorado achieve their best health and elevate every smile at deltadentalcofoundation.org.