INTRODUCTION Medicare is the primary source of health coverage for older adults and younger individuals with disabilities. Yet, Medicare explicitly excludes coverage for most dental services.1 Consequently, nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries did not see a dentist in the past year.2 Without access to treatment, Medicare beneficiaries experience significant adverse health outcomes, with certain populations suffering more acutely. Populations of color are disproportionately impacted by the exclusion of dental coverage in Medicare. Nationwide 17 percent of older adults have no remaining natural teeth—a rate that has been steadily decreasing each year. Yet, among Black older adults, the percent of individuals with complete tooth loss is 31 percent—almost double the national average—with minimal change over the past decade.3 In this paper, we examine how adding a dental benefit to Medicare would be a step towards reducing disparities in access to care and oral health outcomes on the basis of race. The paper begins with an overview of the disparities in access to oral health coverage, services, and outcomes based on race. Next, we examine how adding a dental benefit to Medicare would help to reduce those disparities. We conclude with a list of additional policy options aimed at reducing disparities beyond expanding oral health coverage.
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