Letters to the editor: The important connection between oral health and general health

Dear Editor,

As Dental Director for Health Net of West Michigan I work to improve the oral health of vulnerable populations in Kent County through education and access to dental services. I work with Kent County residents of all ages and backgrounds. Oral health is a key component of comprehensive health care and although it seems logical, Americans have not always publicly recognized the connection between oral health and general health. In the last twenty years, we have made strides in connecting the importance of regular dental check-ups and care with other health problems such as diabetes. Yet, some social services have not kept up with the need to have regular dental care – specifically, Medicare.

As adults near the age of 65 and begin the Medicare enrollment process, they are often surprised to find out Medicare fails to include dental coverage as a benefit. In fact, 52 percent of older adults are either unsure or don’t know Medicare doesn’t include dental coverage and only about 2 percent of retiring Americans will have dental insurance of any kind. This leaves our seniors without regular cleanings, fillings, crowns and all the care that is needed to help preserve long-term health.

Medicare was established in 1964 before we truly understood the importance of oral health. We now know better. Join me in letting our federal legislators know we need dental coverage added to Medicare.

Visit DemandMedicareDental.org to look up your Congressional legislator’s position and send them a toothbrush to let them know the importance of oral health care for our seniors.


Dr. Colette Smiley