Conn. study finds vulnerable elderly lack dental care

The findings of a recent survey of the oral health needs of vulnerable older adults living in Connecticut show that many are not receiving the dental care they need and untreated caries is a significant problem, especially for residents of long-term care facilities.

In 2012, state health offices surveyed two population groups -- residents of long-term care facilities and adults attending federally subsidized congregate meal sites -- to assess the oral health of vulnerable older adults in the state, according the Connecticut Department of Public Health. A total of 845 adults were screened across the state.

Older adults are often overlooked, especially those with impaired mobility, diminished sensory awareness, multiple chronic health conditions, and social and economic limitations, health officials said.

The survey found that many vulnerable older adults are not visiting the dentist on a regular basis. Two out of 10 vulnerable older adults screened at congregate meal sites reported they have problems getting dental care and more than half do not have dental insurance. About three-quarters of those without dental insurance said they could not afford it.

Health officials expressed hope that Medicare will soon start covering oral healthcare. Many diseases could be avoided with proper oral healthcare, and it should be included as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they said.

Vulnerable populations would benefit from increased communication between medical and dental providers, especially those who deal with geriatric patients, to improve health management for older adults, state officials said. Additional training of nursing home staff on daily oral hygiene care appropriate to the needs of residents and expanded use of portable dental equipment and teledentistry in long-term facilities and settings that serve seniors would increase access to preventive and restorative care.

A pilot project is beginning this month at the Noble Horizons long-term care facility in Salisbury, which will provide an educational program for the administrators and nursing staff to increase their awareness of the importance of oral health for their residents and assist them in providing the daily oral hygiene care residents need.

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