Dr. Katrina Schuler-Bacon (left) gives Marcet Love a shot of numbing medication before pulling one of his teeth at the Mercy Care free dental clinic in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 19. Four and a half million Georgians lack dental insurance, and many of them haven’t seen a dentist in decades. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL
Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Nearly 20 percent of Georgia's seniors are toothless: Study

Georgia has one of the highest percentages of toothless seniors in the country, according to a March analysis of government data – a ranking which reflects, in part, the state's rates of poverty and available dentists.

Using data from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HealthGrove, a health and wellness website, ranked the 25 states most affected by senior tooth loss.

Georgia ranked No. 11 on the list: 19.3 percent of seniors are toothless, with 47.6 dentists per 100,000 residents, according to the analysis. The state also has a poverty rate of 19 percent, though it's unclear from what year that rate, or the CDC or dentist data, was drawn. The state's 2014 poverty rate was 18.3.

Healthgrove said its analysis showed a "moderate correlation" between poverty and percentage of toothlessness, and a "strong inverse correlation" between the number of dentists and percentage of toothlessness.

In the analysis, Georgia ranked behind Deep South compatriots such as Alabama (No. 6), Louisiana (No. 8), Mississippi (No. 3) North Carolina (No. 1) and Tennessee (No. 5).

West Virginia, with 33.7 percent of its seniors who are toothless, ranked No. 1.

Dental health is seen by professionals as a vital part of a person's overall health. But with more than 108 million people in the U.S. without dental insurance, it is also a neglected, or inaccessible, area in health care. This is especially true among senior citizens, with nealy half of them having reported no visits to the dentist in a year or more, according to one 2011 study.

An estimated more than 4 million Georgians don't have dental coverage, according to a May 2015 AJC story about the state of dental health care in Georgia.

What's more, 49 million people live in one of the nation's 4,230 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The American Dental Hygienist's Association has estimated that 26 percent of Americans ages 65 and older have no remaining natural teeth.

Many organizations do offer free or reduced dental care. For a list of places in Atlanta that offer such services, click here.

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