Iowa has one of the nation’s oldest populations by percentage and a new report finds people 50-plus do realize the importance of oral health but aren’t necessarily taking the steps to prioritize it.

Sarah Chavarria, with Delta Dental, says the insurance company’s latest survey finds some senior citizens simply aren’t aware of the connection between a person’s oral health and their overall health.

“And what we found was that 72% of them said that they wish they would have taken better care of their teeth and mouth when they were younger,” Chavarria says, “and 80% of them are not, they are not going to the dentist twice a year like they should.”

When a person’s oral health erodes, she says it can have a definite impact on their mental and emotional health. The survey found two in five seniors surveyed admit they smile a lot less now than when they were younger, while one in three say the appearance of their teeth stops them from smiling in photos.

“When you look at that number and then you think about 30% of them are avoiding connections,” Chavarria says. “We’re coming out of the pandemic. People are socializing with family, friends, going out to eat, and 30% of us are avoiding connections because we’re embarrassed about our smile or about our laugh. That’s pretty striking.”

Older Iowans may find a series of barriers that keep them from taking good care of their teeth. “For people 65 and older, 68% have gum disease and gum disease can be an indicator for diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s so we have to pay attention to that,” Chavarria says. “The second is access to care, so think about time transportation, their own mobility.”

Other barriers include a negative perception of going to the dentist and financial challenges. She’s urging everyone to adopt the “two-one-two” philosophy when caring for their smiles. “Brush twice daily. Floss once a day — I know you don’t want to but it’s really important,” Chavarria says, “and get to the dentist for that cleaning and that checkup twice a year. And then there are things we can do at home like make sure you’re drinking a lot of water, if you can, make sure it has fluoride.”

Eating healthier snacks, like fruits and vegetables, is also a plus, as is exercise. Also, if you have a partial or a denture, take it out for a good cleaning at least once a day. For more tips, visit the Delta Dental of Iowa website.

Radio Iowa