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Elder Care Symposium attendees gain practical advice on treating booming number of seniors

July 23, 2019

By David Burger

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Symposium: Drs. Steve Johnson, left, and Davis Henning smile as they react to a speaker at the ADA Elder Care Symposium at ADA Headquarters on June 28.


Always consider the patient's desires and goals.

Provide an individualized treatment plan, as no patient is the same.

Develop a team approach to care.

Those were three — among many others — nuggets of advice on how to treat older adult patients for the attendees of the first ADA Elder Care Symposium at ADA Headquarters on June 28.

The symposium, presented by the ADA Council on Dental Practice and its National Elder Care Advisory Committee, aimed to boost awareness of the importance of oral care for elderly patients by highlighting the relationship between oral health and systemic health in an often-vulnerable population that is growing in leaps and bounds as the baby boomers and others are living longer lives.

One dentist who attended was Dr. Davis Henning, a 2019 graduate of the UNC Claude A. Adams Jr. and Grace Phillips Adams School of Dentistry. He is planning his move to Arizona with his girlfriend and fellow dental school grad, Dr. Brennan Allen, to join a clinic that specializes in providing care to older adult patients.

“The ADA is rising to meet the need of these patients,” Dr. Henning said about being exposed to older patients at dental school. “We want to set the bar for how it’s done. Once you’ve seen the challenges and their vulnerability, it’s hard not to respond to the need. They were often neglected.”

The symposium was designed to be practical, said Dr. Michael Medovic, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice’s National Elder Care Advisory Committee, so the speakers all delivered guidance on how to provide optimal elder care. Along with the advice above, the recommendations included:

• Always talk to the patient first even if they have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other ailments that may impede communication.  A good practice is to ask senior patients if it is OK to bring their son or daughter to the appointment and be present for the treatment.
• Think patient-centered care.
• Understand and apply the best available evidence in clinical decision-making and treatment, which includes the opportunity to provide preventive care.
• Conduct a risk-benefit analysis for dental treatment that includes knowledge of a complete dental/medical history. Sometimes the best treatment is no treatment or a palliative treatment plan, and make sure everything is documented in the patient chart.
• Develop relationships with primary care physicians as well as pharmacists. Treatment for the elderly requires a different approach, and you may need to make formal referrals to medical colleagues.
• Advocate for research and education that will help dentists prepare for the ever-growing
aging segment of the population.

Symposium presentations are now available for download and will remain available until Sept. 15. To access the presentations, visit here.