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J Dent Educ. 1993 Dec;57(12):876-87.

Implications of access, utilization and need for oral health care by the non-institutionalized and institutionalized elderly on the dental delivery system.

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University of Florida, College of Dentistry, Department of Community Dentistry, Box 100404 JHMHC, Gainsville 32610.


Oral health is integral to an older adult's general health and quality of life, and basic oral health services are an essential component of primary health care. The elderly should receive special consideration in terms of their oral health care needs since they: 1) may have unique problems accessing the health care delivery system; 2) experience different patterns and prevalence rates of oral diseases; and 3) may have characteristics that affect the amount and types of dental treatment and the method by which it is performed. Older adults are maintaining their natural teeth into their later years, and epidemiologic trends suggest the increasing need for dental services by older adults. Yet dental utilization rates are lower for older adults than for younger age groups, and barriers to care include the cost of dental care, the lack of perceived need for care, transportation problems, and fear. Oral diseases and impairments are most commonly experienced by those segments of society least able to obtain dental care. Economically and socially disadvantaged older adults and the physically impaired are more likely to experience tooth loss and edentulism, untreated dental decay and periodontal diseases. Adults over the age of 65 years have the lowest proportion of dental expenses reimbursed by private dental insurance (10 percent), and the highest percentage of out-of-pocket dental expenses (79 percent), as compared to all other age groups. Of the two largest public programs, Medicare does not pay for most dental services, and Medicaid (Title XIX), does not offer dental benefits for adults in most states. Although the majority of older adults live independently in the community, there is a growing number of elders with special needs that require long term care either at home or in an institution. These frail and functionally dependent elders have significant dental needs, and experience greater barriers to receiving dental care as compared to the independent elderly. Additional research is needed to accurately characterize the oral health status and needs of the growing number of homebound and institutionalized elders. This will be of growing importance with the emergence of the vast array of home health care services available to older adults, and the changing emphasis on home care often seen as the preferred and lower cost alternative to nursing home care.

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