Dr. Ira Lamster, Dean of the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, has issued a “call to action” for a national coordinated effort to address the growing problem of oral health care among the elderly. His proposal covers dental education, provision of new dental services, changes in public policy, and prevention initiatives.
“The needs of the nation’s seniors do not mesh with the availability of services,” says Dr. Lamster. “While America’s elderly population continues to grow, its dental needs have received little attention and almost no public health or public policy interventions.”
Columbia already has a number of programs in place to address the needs of senior patients and has plans for more. Programs include the mobile dental clinic, which visits senior centers, as well as community-based practices and geriatric clinics. Dr. Lamster also plans new curriculum, research, and policy initiatives that target geriatric oral health.
On the national level, Dr. Lamster proposes a wide-ranging, coordinated effort, led by dental schools and involving groups such as the American Dental Association and American Dental Education Association; federal, state, and local health authorities; and national organizations and foundations.
Key to his proposal is a way to address the shortage of dental practitioners who are formally trained to meet the needs of elderly patients. Geriatric dentistry is not a recognized dental specialty, and there is no obvious source of support for training a new group of gerodontologists. Geriatric dentistry should receive increased emphasis by the nation’s dental schools, he says, specifically in predoctoral dental curricula.
Dr. Lamster outlined his ideas in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, and his efforts will continue in the future. “The dental profession,” he says, “has the opportunity to take a leadership role in the delivery of health care services for our seniors who have contributed so vitally to our society’s well-being and deserve to be treated with the best oral health care we have to offer."