At Delta Dental of Arizona our mission is to improve lives by promoting optimal oral health for all Arizonans. From teaching toddlers how to brush their baby teeth to connecting pregnant women and seniors to low-cost preventive screenings and cleanings, we make it our goal to help provide access to oral health care at every stage in life.
This is because tooth decay affects people of all ages. Not only is tooth decay the most common chronic disease during childhood, but it impacts adults and seniors alike. According to the CDC nearly all adults aged 65 or older have had at least one cavity and one in five have untreated tooth decay.
Older Adults and Oral Health
But cavities and tooth decay aren’t the only oral health issues seniors and older adults face. As we age, we become more vulnerable to age-related health conditions that have symptoms in the mouth. Cells renew at slower rates, tissues become thinner, bones become less dense and strong, and certain medications can cause dry mouth. Dental decay caused by dry mouth can lead to tooth loss, denture sores and eating difficulties. Consider the following:
- Nearly 1 in 5 adults aged 65 or older have lost all their teeth
- 68% of adults aged 65 or older have gum disease
- Cancers of the mouth are primarily diagnosed in older adults
- Missing teeth or poor fitting dentures can affect proper nutrition
Seniors in our community with the poorest oral health tend to face extra hurdles that make caring for their mouths difficult. Income inequality, lack of insurance, and disabilities increase the risk of poor oral health for older adults. For vulnerable seniors in our community, it’s important that we address their unique oral health problems with resources that increase access to preventive care and treatment.
Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation recently partnered with Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix to address oral health disparities affecting older adults across Arizona. The new Hospital Oral Care and Periodontal Disease Education (HOPE) program will provide a minimum of twice-daily oral health protocols to hospital patients aged 65 and older and adults with disabilities.
Clinical staff will work with patients ensure they brush their teeth twice a day and brush the teeth of patients who are unable to brush themselves, such as patients with muscular diseases or ventilated patients. This $330,000 grant will also support an oral health navigator to educate and support patients across hospital units and collaborate with case managers and social workers to identify barriers to care and connect high-risk patients with dental services and oral healthcare. This unique program doesn’t just provide immediate oral health education and care, it is implementing new protocols across the hospital system by:
- Establishing an oral health standard of care in geriatric medicine which will then be implemented across all of Banner’s Arizona hospitals
- Providing oral health training for nurses and other medical providers
- Forming an oral-health patient assistance fund to support patients needing financial assistance in order to access dental care
Medical-dental partnerships with nonprofit organizations like Banner help increase the overall health of senior citizens by stressing the importance of oral health care in medical care. Delta Dental of Arizona pledges to continue working to improve overall oral health and access to care for the senior population across the state.