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. 2005 Sep;69(9):975-86.

Barriers to and Enablers of Older Adults' Use of Dental Services

  • PMID: 16141083

Barriers to and Enablers of Older Adults' Use of Dental Services

H Asuman Kiyak et al. J Dent Educ. .


The theme of the Elders' Oral Health Summit is older adults' access to dental care and how this situation can be improved for future cohorts. A major question is whether older adults today, as well as baby boomers who will be entering their seventies within the next decade, will demand dental care as part of their overall well-being. The current cohort of elders varies widely in its use of dental services, from regular preventive users to non-users who report that they have not been to a dentist in more than twenty years. In 1999, 53.5 percent of older adults reported that they had visited a dentist, the lowest rate of any age group beyond eighteen. This article examines some determinants of older persons' dental service utilization, both barriers and enablers, as a means of understanding why some people continue seeking preventive dental care throughout their lives while others are lifelong irregular users and still others discontinue regular use after retirement or relocation to a new community or long-term care facility. Based on the epidemiological and psychosocial literature available on this topic, barriers and enablers include cohort and age, race and ethnicity, income and education, availability of dental and medical insurance, urban vs. rural residence, physical access to a dental office, and systemic and functional health. Attitudes toward oral health and dental care and other psychosocial variables may override some of these demographic and structural variables. Research in medical and dental service utilization offers insights into the relative predictive ability of these variables. Dental providers can also be potent enablers or barriers to older adults' access to dental care. Each of these factors plays a role in older adults' use of dental services. Under different situations some serve as both barriers and enablers.

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