Lack of Dental Care Affects Seniors' Health
Lack of Dental Care Affects Seniors' Health

Poor Oral Health Contributes to Malnutrition, Other Medical Issues
Barbara Bell
Jan 30, 2009

The geriatric population in general faces obstacles to good dental care, and many suffer poor health as a result. Cost, transportation, availability, anxiety are factors.

As the global economy worsens and the effects of shrinking local and federal budgets reach every segment of the population, the lives of seniors at just about every level of income are diminished by the lack of access to good dental care.

Seniors Often Lose Access to Dental Coverage at Retirement
Many elderly who lose dental insurance when they retire find it impossible to afford dental treatment whether because of lack of transportation, lack of access when living in group facilities, anxiety over expense or pain, or other obstacles raised by poor health in general. Medicare does not cover dental care, nor do many private insurance plans.

Because dental diseases are not life threatening or outwardly disabling, administrators of institutions for the elderly and health legislators place a low priority on dental care for the elderly. ( Journal Extract, July 2006)

Barriers to Dental Care
A small study conducted in 2005 by the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Buffalo, found that more than 50% of the elderly were not seeing a dentist. The group named cost as the most significant problem, followed by a lack of transportation. While general dental health care in the UK has been addressed by the National Health Service resulting in more elderly being able to keep their teeth, the unintended consequences were that more of them were struggling to see a dentist because of their living in group homes or being housebound. "More than a third of over 75s fail to have regular check ups - the highest for any age group, according to Help the Aged. 'Teeth decay and pain can affect your eating habits and nutrition. It is something the NHS and those caring for old people need to be aware of.'

Oral Health a Clue to Recognizing Other Health Problems
Physicians have learned that examining the mouths of their geriatric patients gives them another way to recognize heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, anemia, HIV, and poor nutrition. In fact, poor nutrition is a major cause of other significant health problems in the elderly. Poor oral health is often the first indication that a person is not getting enough of the B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium. Bacteria allowed to enter the bloodstream from deteriorating teeth or gums can damage the heart and exacerbate the healing process of other inflammations.

An inability to chew adequately will deter anyone, but especially a vulnerable senior, from eating fresh vegetables or adequate fiber to maintain good health. Other factors such as fatigue, dementia, immobility, or medication side effects may make it difficult to achieve good oral health.

Caregivers as well as health professionals should make good oral health a high priority for their elderly patients. Finding a means to provide low-cost and accessible dental health care for this population should be a high priority for government at all levels.

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