Seniors cite financial need as the greatest barrier to receiving dental care

A survey of seniors' access to dental care conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College presents a sobering picture of the dental needs and barriers to dental care experienced by seniors.

Results showed that only 11 percent of 273 respondents had dental insurance. Not surprisingly, given that figure, more than half -- 52 percent -- listed financial need as the greatest barrier to receiving dental care.

The findings were presented at the International Association of Dental Research annual meeting held in March in Orlando, Fla.

Kimberly Zittel-Palamara, M.S.W., Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of restorative dentistry in the UB School of Dental Medicine and an assistant professor of social work at Buffalo State College, was first author.

"Little is known about the dental-care needs of urban-versus-rural-dwelling seniors in this part of New York State," said Zittel-Palamara. "Earlier research indicated that seniors who live in rural areas have less access to dental care than their urban-dwelling contemporaries.

"Our study showed similar findings in Western New York. Programs designed to improve access to dental care need to be sensitive to regional differences."

The study grew out of an innovative program at the UB dental school, conducted in conjunction with the UB School of Social Work, that provides social services to older adults treated in UB dental clinics Called CARES, for counseling, advocacy, referral, education and service, the program received the 2005 Geriatric Oral Health Care Award from the American Dental Association.

Surveys for the study were administered to attendees at senior centers and nutrition sites in the eight counties of Western New York by social work graduate students, dental students and dental faculty and staff. Approximately one-third of respondents lived in urban areas and two-thirds in rural settings. The median age was 74.

Results showed that access to dental care was rated "fair-to-poor" by 1 in 3 respondents. Nearly three-fourths -- 71 percent -- of urban dwellers indicated they had seen a dentist within the past year, compared to 58 percent of rural dwellers. Twenty percent of rural dwellers and 15 percent of urban dwellers had not seen a dentist for six or more years.

Zittel-Palamara said the ultimate goal of the study is to encourage dentists to integrate social workers and other disciplines into their practices to help senior patients obtain better access to dental care. In addition, the study aims to spur development of programs to help seniors get dental insurance, she said, and to establish the need for a mobile dental van to serve local senior-center sites.

Additional contributors to the study were Jayne E. Maugans, Ph.D., of Houghton College; and Yoly M. Gonzalez, D.D.S., Meelin Chin-Kit Wells, D.D.S., James A. Wysocki, MSW, Elaine Davis, Ph.D., and Frank Scannapieco, D.D.S., Ph.D., all from the UB dental school.

Wysocki is director of the CARES program. Zittel-Palamara previously co-directed the program with him.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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