Oral health is an integral part of overall health and an important part of healthy (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). The oral cavity is the gateway to the body and its first line of defense. Infections in the teeth and gums can contribute to health consequences elsewhere in the body and, conversely, health conditions and their treatment can affect the mouth. Healthy, pain-free dentition is essential for good nutrition, and plays a role in an individual’s expression and self-esteem across the life span.
Older adults are at special risk for oral health problems, and those living in rural areas face additional challenges accessing dental care. Gum tissue shrinks with age, leaving the roots of teeth more vulnerable to caries (decay), while chronic illnesses such as diabetes can trigger gum infection and inflammation. Another factor contributing to dental decay is dry mouth (xerostomia), which is a side effect of many medications taken by older adults—medications such as those used for pain (narcotics), high blood pressure (diuretics), seasonal allergies (antihistamines), and depression (numerous antidepressants).
Smoking tobacco and using smokeless tobacco—practices prevalent in many rural-area populations—also increase the risk of periodontal (gum) disease, dental caries, and oropharyngeal cancer. If unchecked, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. Significantly, adults who have lost their teeth are still at risk for cancerous lesions and should have regular oral examinations and evaluations of their dentures.
Older adults with poor dentition and chewing capacity can experience malnutrition or over-consumption of soft foods that are calorie-dense (but nutrient-poor) and are potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing). Concurrent with an increase in their oral health needs, older adults frequently experience diminished neuromotor or cognitive abilities, which, along with other medical problems, may hinder their capacity to maintain oral hygiene and to access dental care.
These challenges are increasing as the U.S. population ages. Timely access to dental healthcare can ameliorate many of these problems, but this access is an ongoing challenge in rural areas of the United States. While those older than age 65 represent about 15 percent of the U.S. population, in rural areas about 20 percent of the population is older than age 65 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). As baby boomers age, many move to less populous or geographically isolated areas, and their numbers in these communities are expected to grow disproportionately.
Authors:Roberts FA, DiMarco AC, Skillman SM, Mouradian WE
Journal/Publisher:Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging
Edition:Nov 2016. 40(3):79-84
Link to ArticleAccess the article here: Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging
Citation:Roberts FA, DiMarco AC, Skillman SM, Mouradian WE. Growing The Dental Workforce For Rural Communities: University Of Washington’s RIDE Program. Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. Nov 2016 40(3):79-84