Seniors’ Perception of the Value of Oral Health May Determine Whether They Seek Treatment

Dentistry Today


How senior citizens perceive the importance of their oral health can make the difference in whether or not they decide to seek treatment, according the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. 

Researchers there are looking to change the strategy in identifying the way seniors see oral health to find a correlation between seniors who value dental care and those who seek it out despite the cost, transportation to appointments, and other barriers. 

The researchers hope to raise awareness of these perceptions among providers and practitioners to help change the way seniors see oral health. 

In their study, the researchers used the Common Sense Model of Self-Regulation, a new psychological framework describing a person’s perception of chronic issues that drive coping and action planning.

In other words, the researchers said, changing perceptions is a key component important in restructuring older adults’ perception of dental conditions and subsequently improving oral health quality of life. 

“First, we wanted to develop a new survey instrument that can measure seniors’ perception of oral diseases,” said Suchitra Nelson, PhD, lead author, professor of community dentistry, and assistant dean of clinical and translational research. “Once we can measure this, then we can design behavioral interventions to see if they seek treatment.”

The researchers surveyed 198 residents age 62 and older from 16 senior housing facilities in northeast Ohio. A 43-item illness perception questionnaire assessed their cognitive and emotional representation of their dental condition. 

Also, the researchers collected information on the residents’ demographics, the perceived condition of their teeth and gums, depression, social support, and quality of life as it relates to their oral health. The residents then were examined for missing teeth, coronal and root caries, and periodontitis.

“We speculate that if seniors value dental care, they’ll seek it out,” Nelson said. “Barriers such as cost, transportation, and other medical issues should not interfere if believes about the importance of dental care are high enough.”

Demographics such as race, marital status, housing, and level of education didn’t make much difference in the results, meaning that there was something else at work to explain why some seniors have more dental issues than others.

It all comes down to perception, Nelson said. Also, the study notes that the Common Sense Model can be used to design behavioral interventions to change perceptions about seniors’ oral health. 

The study, “The Psychometric Properties of a New Oral Health Illness Perception Measure for Adults Aged 62 Years and Older,” was published by PLOS One.

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