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Dental Care Use, Edentulism, and Systemic Health among Older Adults


Meyerhoefer, C., Pepper, J., Manski, R., Moeller, J.


Journal of Dental Research




Past research suggests there are systematic associations between oral health and chronic illness among older adults. Although causality has not yet been credibly established, periodontitis has been found to be associated with higher risk of both heart disease and stroke. We advance this literature by estimating the direct association between dental care use and systemic health using multiple waves of the 1992 to 2016 Health and Retirement Study. Through the inclusion of individual fixed effects in our regression models, we account for unobservable time-invariant characteristics of individuals that might otherwise bias estimates of the association between dental care use and health. We find statistically significant negative associations between dental care use and the number of health conditions, self-reported overall health, the incidence of heart disease, and the incidence of stroke. In particular, the use of dental care within the past 2 y is associated with a 2.7% reduction in the likelihood of being diagnosed with a heart condition and a reduction in the likelihood of a stroke diagnosis of between 5.3% and 11.6%. We also find large positive correlations between edentulism and the measures of chronic illness. Associations from models estimated separately for men and women are qualitatively similar to one another. These findings provide additional motivation for the consideration of a Medicare dental benefit.

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