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Aug 28, 2013 11:30 AM by Ryan Haarer

Affordable dental care tops list of concerns for seniors

TUCSON- Affordable dental care is the number one priority for seniors according to the Pima Council on Aging. A healthy mouth is crucial to overall health, and far too many elderly people in our community are not getting the help they need.

"I want to keep my teeth in good condition because the one thing I can do now at the age of 81 is eat!," said Gretchen Nielsen, a patient at El Rio Dental Clinic.

Many seniors are not as lucky. Pima Council on Aging fields calls all the time from folks looking for help.

"23 percent of the folks between 65 and 74 have severe periodontal disease. Severe means your gums are very inflamed, they may be oozing, they may be pussy and they may be affecting your ability to eat. When you can't eat, you can't get adequate nutrition," said Jennifer Walker, a senior advocate at the Pima Council on Aging.

For beneficiaries like Gretchen, Medicare offers nothing by way of dental care and insurance plans are often too costly. The effect of neglect is long term.

"There is a lot in the literature that shows the link between periodontal, gum disease, and diabetes, cardiac problems, arthritis," said Dr. Greg LaChance.

Dr. LaChance sees it all too often, working out of the non-profit El Rio Clinic where patients can get up to half off on services depending on their age and income.

"Teeth are like tires. You know they wear out after a while so in our senior citizens we see a lot of worn out teeth."

Some of the worst cases are the residents coming from nursing homes where neglect is amplified.

"The staff in those places are so busy, they don't have time to brush teeth. They don't have time to take out dentures and make sure they are clean," said Walker.

Dr. LaChance and the Pima Council on Aging say knowing there are financial options can make a huge difference. Gretchen Nielsen said she could not afford to get her teeth cleaned had it not been for the pay scale.

El Rio is not the only clinic that offers discounted dental services. The Pima Council on Aging has a huge list of clinics and dentists that offer some financial assistance.

For more information on the services Pima Council on Aging can help you with, call their helpline at (520) 790-7262 or visit pcoa.org. They can also be emailed at help@pcoa.org. El Rio clinic information can be found at elrio.org.

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