Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seniors face unique oral health challenges

The fact we're living longer and keeping our natural teeth longer is making seniors' oral health increasingly complex, says Dr. Mary McNally, an associate professor of dentistry at Dalhousie University.
"The situation has changed from even a generation ago," she says.
"Then, the profile would be quite different in longterm care. Now, many of the people have much higher needs. As well as living longer, the data show that they are frailer and more of them have dementia."
Canadians' life expectancy is now an average of 80.7 years, compared to 78.4 a decade earlier, and the population balance is changing, according to Statistics Canada. In 1996, there were 3.5 million seniors in Canada. By 2021, the number is expected to almost double to 6.9 million.
Many members of this older generation are likely to have more or all of their natural teeth.
"We really have improved our oral health in the last 40 years," says Dr. Peter Cooney, the chief dental officer for Canada, citing the most recent Canadian Health Measures Survey.
"People are keeping their teeth much more. Only about six per cent of the Canadian population has full dentures."
The increase in the number retaining their teeth complicates the work of care providers, adds McNally.
"All of a sudden, the care sector has inherited people with lots of teeth, when, a generation ago, they would have had their teeth in a glass by the bed. Trying to brush someone else's teeth is not easy, especially people with dementia."
Phil Hughes, former president of the retired teachers organization of Nova Scotia and former chair of the Group of IX Nova Scotia Seniors' Organizations, says he is "very concerned with all aspects of senior oral health, in particular, the barriers faced by seniors."
He cites a long list of issues ranging from the cost of care, the lack of dental insurance or public dental programs to living in rural areas without easy access to a dental office, fear of dental visits and disease and disability "that makes brushing or flossing extremely challenging."

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