Hartford, CT - The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced findings from a recent survey of the oral health needs of vulnerable older adults living in Connecticut. Key findings of the survey show that many vulnerable adults are not receiving the dental care they need and untreated tooth decay is a significant problem, especially for residents of long term care facilities.
In 2012, DPH 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. A total of 845 adults were screened across the state.
“Oral health is integral to overall good health, but is often an overlooked aspect of an older adult’s general health,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen. “This oversight is especially true for vulnerable older adults – those with impaired mobility, diminished sensory awareness, multiple chronic health conditions, and social and economic limitations.”
The DPH survey found that many vulnerable older adults are not visiting the dentist on a regular basis. Two out of ten vulnerable older adults screened at congregate meal sites reported they have problems getting dental care and over half do not have dental insurance. About three quarters of those without dental insurance said it was because they could not afford it.
“Preventive oral health care is as important as preventive medical care,” said State Department on Aging Commissioner Edith G. Prague. “It is my hope that Medicare will soon start covering oral healthcare. Many diseases could be avoided with proper oral health care, and it should be included as part of the Affordable Care Act.”
State officials said that 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. 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 preventative and restorative care.
DPH is working with the Oral Health for Older Adults Consortium, a task force comprised of state oral health advocates, to examine strategies that would improve the oral health of older adults. Through these efforts, a pilot project is beginning this month at the Noble Horizons Long Term Care facility in Salisbury. The project 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.
The survey and report were funded through a grant from the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. For more information about the Oral Health Program and to view the Oral Health of Vulnerable Older Adults in Connecticut survey report, visit www.ct.gov/dph/oralhealth