Older Adults and Oral Health
A Cross-Federal Initiative on Expanding Oral Health Access for Older Adults was started by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2010. The need for this initiative is based on the disparities seen in access to services due to age, race, income, and education. There is concern that there will be a “tsunami of need” with the increase in the aging population since there is no routine coverage for dental needs under Medicare.
Germs found in dental plaque can make their way into the lungs and cause potentially fatal pneumonia in elderly nursing home patients, U.S. researchers reported. Tests of germs from the lungs showed the DNA matched the DNA of plaque germs in eight of the patients – more than half.
Since oral disease is preventable, the efforts of this initiative will focus on health literacy to counteract how little professional dental care is currently used. In addition to HHS, other agencies involved include the Center for Disease Control and the Administration for Community Living.
Poor oral health affects a person’s quality of life and causes poor general health. Gum disease is linked with diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Adults over the age of 75 have the highest amount of tooth loss. Tooth loss can cause weight loss in some cases, and weight gain in others. Both of these weight issues have negative effects on older adults.
The Health Community Study’s objective is to build partnerships with resources in the community and to recruit dentists to participate. Community health centers would play a key role in connecting with community services.
The Eldercare Locator connects people to Aging Network to find services in their community and can be found at: www.eldercare.gov. The goal is to help seniors stay at home through low cost home and community based services.
For additional information, see the Administration on Aging website: http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/HPW/Oral_Health/index.aspx