Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body

Understanding the Importance of Oral Health in the Elderly

David W. Matear, BDS, BMSc, DDPH, MSc, FRSH
Chief of Dentistry, Baycrest
Centre for Geriatric Care and Assistant Professor,
Department of Community Dentistry, University of Toronto

Dental professionals in Canada have concerned themselves with the oral health of Canada's population as a whole; unfortunately, strategies and funding have not supported initiatives to address the growing needs of the elderly population. The oral health needs of older adults, and the potentially serious consequences of oral disease in the elderly, present a major challenge not only to members of the dental profession, but to all health care professionals and the general community. We can rise to the challenge successfully only by working together in an integrated and coordinated manner.

Despite the advances in oral health care in developed countries, the oral health status of the elderly has not improved to the same extent as that of the younger members of the population.1,2 This represents a failure on our part; it would seem that we are ill-informed and ill-prepared to meet the oral health needs of our elderly. This lack of preparedness in terms of providing the elderly with appropriate care contrasts sharply with the growing recognition that this is dentistry's fastest growing and most challenging area.