Unmet Dental Needs and the Hungry Elderly

As the baby boomer generation ages, the population’s health needs continue to increase. Many senior citizens, especially those who are , often experience hunger and malnutrition. The biggest challenge for homebound senior citizens facing hunger and the lack of nutrition isn’t the inability to afford food or prepare meals like one might expect. The biggest challenge for many is simply the inability to chew their food.

According to the article, “Tending to Unmet Dental Needs, a Root of Elder Hunger” from the Wall Street Journal, nearly 40% of clients surveyed in a study reported difficulty eating. Citymeals-on-Wheels, a nonprofit food delivery service in New York City, recently teamed up with Columbia University College of Dental Medicine to study meal recipients’ oral health. The National Institutes of Health has funded the research study, which included both phone interviews and dental house calls to low-income seniors receiving meals from the delivery service, many of whom haven’t seen a dentist in years—sometimes decades (Wilson, 2015). Interviews and home visits conducted during the study elicited information regarding the client’s ability to eat certain foods and any modifications clients made to food to make it more edible. An example of modifying food is puréeing, which can diminish nutritious components in certain foods. Also, dental examinations and direct observations of oral care and mobility challenges were conducted in order to identify specific hunger-causing issues. A few of the challenges identified in the article include:Dental needs for Elderly

  • Inability to leave home alone
  • Limited availability of city transit for elderly and a people with disabilities
  • Lack of insurance coverage for routine dental care
  • Physical inability to practice oral hygiene
  • Misconceptions about oral health care
  • Overcoming fears

The older adult population is a vulnerable group that requires specific oral health care needs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 25% of Kentucky’s adults age 65 and older have had all of their natural teeth removed, ranking Kentucky at the fifth highest rate of “toothlessness” in the country. As an oral health coalition focused on improving the oral health of all citizens, we need to remember our aging population and the challenges they face every day. Possible next steps to think about include, dental care visits to the home of elderly clients, user-friendly oral hygiene items for clients with arthritis or no grip strength, and further oral health care education. Tooth Wisdom, one of Kentucky Oral Health Coalition’s partners, offers resources regarding oral hygiene, dental coverage, and local care options for older adults and their caregivers. Check out their website at www.toothwisdom.org.

The full article can be found using this link.