The oral health of older Americans is in a state of decay, according to a new national report released by Oral Health America (OHA). A State of Decay, a state-by-state analysis of oral health care delivery and public health factors impacting the oral health of older adults, reveals more than half of the country received a “fair” or “poor” assessment when it comes to minimal standards affecting dental care access for older adults. Florida and Arizona, areas with large older adult populations, rank in the bottom five states due to a shortage of oral health coverage, a strained dental health work force and deficiencies in prevention programs.
“While we are seeing improvements in certain areas of older adult dental care, there is still a lack of progress in advancing the oral health of such a vulnerable population,” says Ira Lamster, D.D.S., M.M.Sc., of the Department of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health. “Older adults face significant health challenges if their oral health is poor, and there is no coordinated program to help fund necessary services.”
A State of Decay gave a rating of “fair,” “poor,” “good” or “excellent” based on state-level data analyzing five variables impacting older adult oral health: adult Medicaid dental benefits, inclusion of older adult strategies in state oral health plans, edentulism (loss of teeth), dental health professional shortage areas and community water fluoridation.
To help older adults and their caregivers address oral health needs and overcome many of the barriers to accessing affordable dental care, OHA launched toothwisdom.org. The website is a first-of-its-kind online tool that connects older adults to dental care and educates on the importance of maintaining oral health with age. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and Special Care Dentistry Association supported OHA and the launch of the website by encouraging their members to provide meaningful articles for the toothwisdom.org.
“Dental hygienists have the opportunity to assist older Americans with the oral health challenges they may face as they age,” says Ann Battrell, M.S.D.H., Executive Director, ADHA. “We’re all committed to sharing the message that oral health matters and changing the common misperception that with age comes a decline in oral health.”