Dentistry must prepare to meet the challenges of providing oral health services to the increasing numbers of medically compromised and cognitively impaired older adults whose care is often complicated by functional, behavioral, and situational factors.
Background: With the unprecedented aging of the population, oral health care providers will be treating a greater number of older adults than in the past. There will also be a larger frail and vulnerable cohort with physical and/or cognitive conditions, disabilities and limited financial resources. The elderly suffer disproportionately from oral disease and limited access to oral health care. Many older adults are either unwilling or unable to receive routine care, putting them at greater risk for general and oral complications. Some present with extensive oral disease, the cumulative effects of disease throughout their lifetime, an even more complicated situation when frail elders are homebound or in long-term care institutions. To care optimally for this aging cohort, oral health professionals need to be knowledgeable about the many conditions, disabilities and age-related changes associated with aging.
Methods: Literature review and discussion of the key research studies describing demographic and societal changes leading to the current multifactorial oral health care crisis impacting older adults. The authors draw upon the evidence and their experience in geriatric patient care to provide information relevant to today's oral health care practitioners treating older adults.
Conclusion: Oral health services are an essential component of primary geriatric health care. The growing population of older and impaired adults requires practitioners who are sensitive to the myriad of functional, behavioral and situational factors that impact this aged cohort. Adequate access to quality oral health care for the aged is a salient public health issue that will require political and psychobiomedical interprofessional collaboration to adequately address.
Keywords: Geriatrics; aging; baby boomers; elderly; frail; older adults.
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