Older adults and their care advisors face a critical lack of access to dental care in this country. Many older adults rely on Medicare for health insurance, and as it does not cover dental, their oral health goes neglected. Oral Health America’s (OHA) report, A State of Decay, reveals that forty-two percent of states (21 states) provide either no dental coverage or emergency coverage only through adult Medicaid Dental Benefits. This means that if a dentist treats a Medicaid patient, the state will only reimburse for some services, at a reimbursement rate that dentists cannot afford or may choose not to accept. As a result, dentists may often refuse to treat Medicaid patients.

"For caregivers helping older adults brush their teeth, keep in mind that tooth brushing can be done anywhere that is easiest for the older adult with just a towel, a bowl, and a cup of water."

A wake-up call

Another problem faced by older adults with regard to their oral health is lack of knowledge— such as information about how to perform daily care or knowledge of local affordable care providers. Currently, few websites provide resources for older adult oral health and increasing numbers of older adults and their caregivers seek health information online. An environmental scan of online resources during the past 24 months indicated that an online resource is badly needed and will be used to connect caregivers and older adults with the information they need and currently are not getting.

In hopes of changing the knowledge gap, toothwisdom.org, launched by OHA in October of 2013, contains simple to understand oral health information for older adults as well as an interactive map for older adults to find care. Some information that older adults are seeking is about basic care such as brushing:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time, using a soft-bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Remove dentures or partials before brushing.
  • If you have trouble swallowing, use less toothpaste or none at all; the most important part is the actual act of brushing away food and plaque.
  • Consider a child-sized toothbrush or electric toothbrush if you have dexterity issues.

Increasingly, adults who are “aging at home” are being cared for by an adult son or daughter, other relative or friend who is responsible for ensuring that the adult has appropriate oral healthcare. In an OHA Harris Interactive public opinion survey, 739 of 3,000 adults reported being a care advisor for an older adult. For caregivers helping older adults brush their teeth, keep in mind that tooth brushing can be done anywhere that is easiest for the older adult with just a towel, a bowl, and a cup of water.