Tag Archives: access to care

Oral health is a significant factor in overall well-being in seniors

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Image by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.

Good oral health is a strong indicator of good overall health in older adults. It makes sense that nutritional intake is better when a person has all or most of their teeth. Poor oral health, on the other hand, is negatively linked to obesity, sleep apnea, poorer chronic disease management, higher LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, malnutritionlow self esteem, and other physiological problems.

A 2011 study assessed geriatric oral health of 386 seniors, and compared physical factors including body mass index, handgrip strength, and one-leg standing time with eyes open – all considered strong indicators of general health status among older adults. They found that oral health scores “are significantly associated with” muscle strength in the elderly, which in turn, affects their activities of daily living.

The good news is that more Americans are keeping their teeth into old age. The bad news is that many still face challenges obtaining oral health care.

Medicare, the nation’s health care program for seniors does not cover routine care. In many states, Medicaid dental benefits for poor adults are also extremely limited. Only a minority have private dental benefits. Overall, roughly 70 percent of Americans age 65 and older have no dental coverage of any kind.

While overall oral health has improved for seniors in recent decades, the lack of access to care has serious implications for millions of elders, particularly those who are poor or living in isolated places or institutional settings.


AHCJ topic leaders Mary Otto (oral health) and Liz Seegert (aging) teamed up to compile a tip sheet about oral health in seniors that explains possible links between periodontal disease, diabetes and other conditions. They also suggest some story ideas for reporters to pursue about access to care, programs in your community, caregivers and medical providers and more.

Despite ADA’s stance, dentists praise use of therapists

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

In spite of fierce opposition by some mainstream dental groups, workforce auxiliaries known as dental therapists are now at work in Minnesota.

And two dentists who work with them are attesting to their abilities in new YouTube videos, released by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In one, John T. Powers, D.D.S., a private-practice dentist in Montevideo, Minn., says that working with a dental therapist has helped him expand access to care in his rural town. The therapist, trained to perform procedures including pulpotomies, extractions and to place stainless steel crowns has freed him to do more time consuming and complex procedures, Powers says.

In a second, Shiraz Asif, D.D.S., clinic dental officer at a community health clinic in Minneapolis, also describes the perks of working with therapists.

“They’ve turned out to be a great help,” Asif says.

These will surely not be the last words on the subject. Continue reading