Many Older Adults Delayed Dental Care During the Pandemic

Published 03/15/2022

Older adults in the United States have long faced barriers to accessing dental care, including cost, lack of dental coverage, and inadequate transportation. The COVID-19 pandemic added to these obstacles.  

To learn more about these challenges, CareQuest Institute analyzed responses from three surveys of Medicare participants conducted by federal health officials. The analysis, summarized in a research brief, shows that the pandemic led to delays in health care, especially dental care, for older adults. Key findings include: 

  • In summer 2020, one in five Medicare participants (21%), or 13 million people, delayed some form of health care due to the disruption caused by COVID-19. 
  • Nearly 44% of those who delayed health care put off dental care (5.7 million people) — a higher rate than for any other type of care. 
  • Patterns in delaying dental care differed by race and ethnicity. Between summer and fall of 2020, the percentage of Medicare participants who delayed dental care continued to increase among Black participants but declined among white and Hispanic participants. 

The authors write that postponing care will likely result in a spike in diagnoses of oral disease among older adults, which may be more severe and therefore, more difficult and costly to treat. The brief explores the repercussions of delayed care and potential solutions.  

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