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J Public Health Dent. 2009 Summer;69(3):182-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-7325.2009.00121.x.

Oral health self-care behaviors of rural older adults.

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Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1084, USA.



This analysis describes the dental self-care behaviors used by a multiethnic sample of older adults and delineates the associations of self-care behaviors with personal characteristics and oral health problems.


A cross-sectional comprehensive oral health survey conducted with a random, multiethnic (African-American, American Indian, white) sample of 635 community-dwelling rural adults aged 60 years and older was completed in two rural southern counties.


Rural older adults engage in a variety of self-care behaviors, including the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine (12.1 percent), OTC dental products (84.0 percent), salt (50.9 percent), prayer (6.1 percent), and complementary therapies (18.2 percent). Some gender and ethnic class differences are apparent, with greater use by women of OTC medicine and salt and greater use by African-Americans and American Indians of OTC medicine and OTC dental products. The use of dental self-care behaviors appears to be driven by need. Those reporting oral pain, bleeding gums, and dry mouth have greater odds of engaging in most of the dental self-care behaviors, including the use of complementary therapies.


The major factor leading to the use of self-care behaviors is need. Although oral pain does increase the use of self-care behaviors, so do bleeding gums and dry mouth. Research and practice should address self-care behaviors used for oral health problems in addition to pain. Investigators should expand analysis of dental self-care behavior and the relationship of self-care behavior to the use of professional services. Further research also should explore the use of complementary therapies in dental self-care.

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