Older adults

  Population considerations

  • Access to dental care. Many older adults have a limited income, which can limit their use of oral health care (Lee, 1990). Medicare does not pay for basic dental services, which deters many older adults from receiving oral health care (Lamster, 2004). Also, older adults may not have transportation to oral health care facilities.
  • Lack of provider knowledge.  Dental schools do not focus greatly on geriatric oral health needs (Koerber, 1993). When older adults do seek oral health care, their providers may not have proper training.
  • Lack of individual knowledge. Older adults often believe that dental care is less important than other medical care (Kelly, 2005) and may not realize that poor oral health is connected to other medical problems.
  • Physical limitations. Older adults may have difficulty performing routine oral hygiene skills because of physical limitations (Lamster, 2004).
  • Side effects of medications.  Older adults often have one or more chronic conditions that require medication. A common side effect of medications is reduced saliva, which can lead to oral health problems (Lamster, 2004).

  Strategies to address these considerations

  • Provide education. It may be useful to develop interventions that educate older adults about the importance of good oral health habits, the effect of medication on oral health and the link between oral health and chronic conditions.
  • Provide training. Continuing education classes for providers can increase knowledge and skills needed to address oral health care for older adults.
  • Increase access to care. Increase access to oral health care by providing services in or near areas where seniors gather, such as health care facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores and senior community centers. Oral health services can be provided via mobile clinics.
  • Develop transportation options. Work with community organizations, dental care facilities, senior centers and governmental leaders to provide transportation services as a resource for older adults.
  • Modify oral health care. Show older adults with physical limitations how to modify their practices to improve oral health. Oral health care providers can increase access to free or low-cost oral health care devices designed for older adults.

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