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Panel discusses challenges facing older adults seeking oral health care

October 19, 2016

By Jennifer Garvin

Discussion: Dr. Shenam Ticku, right, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, engages the panel on delivery models during the Oct. 4 briefing “Oral Health in an Aging Nation: An Unmet Public Health Challenge” on Capitol Hill.

— The oral health issues facing older adults were the focus of an Oct. 4 briefing hosted by Research!America on Capitol Hill.

“Oral Health in an Aging Nation: An Unmet Public Health Challenge” was designed to show policymakers the importance of oral health in older Americans. Topics covered included the connection between oral health and systemic diseases, the economic and societal impact from the lack of access to services, and the need for more oral health research.

“People who get dental care have lower overall health bills,” said Dr. Michael Alfano, president of the Santa Fe Group and former dean at New York University.

Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute, shared HPI’s analysis that while unmet dental needs are falling among children, the oral health of older adults is “going in the wrong direction.”

During her presentation on policy solutions, Dr. Judith Jones, director, Center for Clinical Research at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, explained how poor overall health affects overall health, compromising the “quality of life.”

Dental services are the “No. 2 unmet need,” according to a statistic Dr. Jones used from the National Associations of States United for Aging and Disabilities.

Beth Truett, president and chief executive officer, Oral Health America, shared data from OHA’s state-by-state analysis of oral health care delivery and the public health factors that impact older adults. She stressed that engaging communities to drive policy change is imperative.

These are tools to “give people the ability to take action,” she said.

Dr. Fotinos S. Panagakos, Ph.D., global director, Scientific Affairs, Colgate-Palmolive Co., said Colgate is involved because “prevention is the end to everything we’ve been discussing,” adding that corporate partnerships are necessary to support research.

Following the presentations, Ellie Dehoney, vice president, policy and advocacy at Research!America, moderated a questions-and-answers session among the 50 attendees.

“Why is there this kind of disconnect?” asked Ms. Dehoney, who questioned why senior oral health issues and oral health issues in general still don’t capture the attention of policymakers despite the evidence.

“Is it lack of awareness? Cost? Misperception?” she said. “What is the biggest challenge concerning policy?”

The panel experts cited an antiquated Medicare system and the separation of medicine and dentistry among the reasons.