California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Dental Providers Face Barriers To Treating Elderly, Calif. Experts Say

While dental care can improve elderly patients' overall health, California experts say providers often face challenges to treating older individuals, Kaiser Health News/Watertown Daily Times reports.


According to the American Dental Association, about 20% of individuals ages 75 and older have not visited a dentist in the last five years.

In California, preliminary findings of a two-year assessment by the Center for Oral Health found that about:

  • 38% of residents in the state's long-term care facilities have none of their original teeth; and
  • About 50% of residents in the state's long-term care facilities who had at least one original tooth had untreated tooth decay.

Theresa Anselmo, who is overseeing the center's assessment, said, "The system is not currently equipped to deal with this huge wave of individuals."

Barriers to Dental Care for Elderly

According to KHN/Daily Times, elderly patients can be resistant to dental care for various reasons, including:

  • Cost;
  • Coverage barriers;
  • Fear;
  • Impaired cognitive skills; and
  • Lack of mobility.

Susan Hyde, division chair of oral epidemiology and dental public health at UC-San Francisco School of Dentistry, said, "There are layers upon layers that can make it very difficult," noting that patients with arthritis or a history of strokes also struggle to care for their teeth.

Roseann Mulligan, a professor at the University of Southern California's dental school, said that coverage for dental care is just as important as coverage for medical care.

Efforts To Bolster Elderly Dental Care

Some experts say more dental care providers need to be trained in how to treat elderly patients, KHN/Daily Times reports.

At the University of the Pacific's dental school in San Francisco, all dental students are required to spend time at an organization that serves elderly patients who otherwise need nursing home care.

Elisa Chavez, a professor at the school, said that many students do not realize the challenges until doing a rotation at the organization. She said, "When you have patients who have lots of medical issues, it can be intimidating."

Meanwhile, ADA has started offering an online training program for treating elderly individuals. Some California dentists are participating in the program, according to KHN/Daily Times (Kaiser Health News/Watertown Daily Times, 12/14).

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