Improving Oral Health for Older Adults

Good oral health is important for healthy aging

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As we age our risk for oral disease increases. Periodontal disease, an infection in the gums, is linked to other serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

Many older adults in Washington are living with diabetes. There is a strong connection between gum disease and diabetes complications.  It is difficult to manage blood sugar if you have an infection in your mouth and high blood sugar makes it more difficult to prevent infections, including gum disease. Studies show significant healthcare cost savings associated with treating gum disease in people with diabetes.

Some of the most common medicines and treatments that are essential for older adults to stay healthy also cause dry mouth, which can quickly lead to tooth decay and tooth loss.  It’s hard to eat the food you need to stay healthy if your mouth hurts or you’re missing teeth.

Medicare doesn’t cover dental care

Good oral health and preventing oral disease are especially critical because each day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and basic Medicare doesn’t include dental care, when many people need it most.

Preventing oral disease and expanding dental care for older adults must be a priority

That’s why we:

  • Invest in nonprofit dental clinics that specialize in serving seniors – more than $1.5 million so far – to help seniors get the affordable care they need.
  • Advocate for programs and policies that increase access to care for lower income seniors.
  • Build dentists’ skills to better care for their older patients.  We teamed up with national experts to develop a day-long continuing education course, titled Improving the Oral Health of Your Older Patients. The course provides insight into assessing treatment options and delivering optimal care based on a patient’s goals, ability to pay, and health status.
  • Partner with AARP, Area Agencies on Aging, medical clinics, and other advocates to share oral health messages so that more people keep their teeth longer, are able to eat nutritious foods, and have a healthy smile.
  • Provide continuing education courses for home care workers to help clients care for their teeth and gums. 
  • Raise awareness about the importance of preventing oral disease so that all older adults, caregivers, and health providers pay attention to oral health.

Order free educational materials here.  For more information on our work with older adults, contact Karen Lewis.