Cost, physical inability, poor general health and anxiety are the main reasons elderly people don’t visit the dentist.
New research, published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, looked into what barriers people over the age of 65 face when looking after their oral health.
Many of those who were interviewed listed forgetfulness as the main reason for not making regular visits to the dentist, cost was also another major barrier to visiting the dentist, while others dismissed the need to look after their oral health altogether saying: ‘If you’re going to die soon, you don’t want to spend more money on it.’
‘One way which would help to overcome many of the barriers identified is for dental professionals, with the support of local authorities, to provide services in care homes and in local community centres to make services more accessible and appealing,’ chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, said.
‘Dental professionals also have a key role in raising awareness of elderly people’s oral health needs; amongst their profession, with their patients and with other caregivers who can then help provide effective support.
‘I would also like to see better provision and greater support for local authorities who will then be able to provide effective information and education for elderly people in care homes and the community as well as for carers and family members who look after them, to emphasise the importance of good oral health in the elderly.
‘By using this combined approach, it would help overcome many of the barriers identified by those who are in need of help.’
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Poor oral health in the elderly has been linked to numerous conditions, including pneumonia, diabetes and heart disease as well as frailty.
In a recent study, poor oral health had been linked to a reduced gripping ability and a reduction in walking speed amongst elderly men, and it could increase the chances of post-menopausal women developing breast cancer.
‘It is upsetting to hear many of these accounts, as our teeth and oral health has such a profound impact on many other aspects of our lives, not just physically but emotionally too,’ Dr Carter continued.
‘We now expect to keep our natural teeth our entire lives, something unheard of even a few decades ago, with the correct care and support there is no reason why this cannot be true for most of us.
‘Addressing elderly people’s oral health care is a very important, yet often overlooked aspect, which I believe there should be much more of a focus on as it has the potential to improve the quality of life of a huge amount of people.’