Strategies Aim to Improve Oral Health for Older Adults

Dentistry Today


Recognizing oral health as an essential element of healthy aging, the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) has released a white paper, “Interprofessional Solutions for Improving Oral Health in Older Adults: Addressing Access Barriers, Creating Oral Health Champions,” that recommends 6 specific strategies for raising people’s quality of life as they age.

GSA’s goal is to promote oral and general health and quality of life outcomes in older adults by focusing all members of the healthcare team—medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, social work, and other professions—on interprofessional, whole-person care that recognizes the inherent connection between oral and systemic health and is valued in the healthcare system.   

“The steps outlined in the white paper can bring about positive change in the field by helping us all focus on key strategies that are most likely to have a positive impact on improving oral health for older adults,” said Stephen Shuman, DDS, MS, chair of GSA’s Oral Health Workgroup.

“With an issue this complex and challenging, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, and the solutions outlined in our white paper really amount to a well thought-out strategic plan or roadmap to guide us in our efforts and also inform key stakeholders about what we believe is necessary to create positive change,” Shuman said.

The white paper is the result of a March summit convened by GSA that included national leaders from 40 influential organizations working in aging and oral health education, research, policy, and professional practice. Informed by the summit’s deliberations, the Oral Health Workgroup formulated the following 6 recommendations:

  • Oral health education and experiences in training programs for all health professions
  • Integrated interprofessional educational programs for practitioners
  • Medicare coverage of oral health services
  • Getting people to care about oral health in older adults
  • Improve access to dental care
  • Creating a coalition of oral health champions.

Each recommendation is accompanied by a suggested list of stakeholders and potential challenges to overcome, specifically in the policy, education, practice, research, and funding arenas.

“The efforts of our workgroup and summit were unique in the broad-based involvement, input, and perspectives we were able to obtain to generate the potential solutions outlined in our white paper,” said Shuman. 

“The challenges of improving the oral health of older adults are substantial and complex, so to successfully address them, it takes a large and influential organization like GSA with the resources necessary to mobilize this type of interprofessional and multidimensional effort engaging a wide array of key stakeholders,” Shuman said.

“Older adults now have more natural teeth and higher oral health expectations than ever before,” said Shuman. “We also know that oral health is not only important for basic comfort and appearance, but also for systemic health, nutrition, and social and psychological well-being.” 

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