Grant recipients for improving older adult access to oral care announced

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK) and the American Dental Association Foundation (ADAF) have announced the winners of $225,000 in grants to help improve older adults' access to oral health care.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's report, Oral Health in America, "a silent epidemic" of oral diseases is afflicting the nation's elderly. About 30 percent of adults 65 years and older no longer have any natural teeth, and only about half of them visited a dentist in 2002.

Responding to the crisis, GSK Consumer Healthcare donated $250,000 late last year to the ADA's charitable arm to establish the Access to Oral Health Care for Older Adults Initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to award grants to spur development of programs to help older Americans who face significant challenges in accessing dental care.

Both GSK Consumer Healthcare and the ADAF were overwhelmed by the response to their call for grant applications ¿ 178 applications were submitted during the six-week eligibility period. An advisory committee of GSK Consumer Healthcare, ADA and ADAF representatives evaluated the proposals based on their originality, creativity and innovation in addressing key barriers to care; potential for continuous program operation; involvement of local communities; potential impact on the target audience; and other criteria.

The winners:

American Red Cross ($50,000), Falls Church, Va., for a national collaborative outreach effort focused on oral healthcare for community-based, semi-dependent older adults, to be delivered in collaboration with locally based Area Agencies on Aging and other community-based organizations.

Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry ($50,000), Augusta, GA, for a program to sensitize new dental practitioners to elderly health needs and to increase elderly treatment opportunities; to develop a unique dental presence in a local flea market; and to provide oral healthcare within the dental school for Georgia war veterans housed in a nearby facility.

National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped ($23,760), Denver, Colo., to fund expansion of its Donated Dental Services program, a national humanitarian initiative involving 11,500 volunteer dentists and 2,700 laboratories that provides $12 million in pro-bono treatment services for 5,600 individuals, most of whom are semi-dependent and 55 percent of whom are over age 54.

New York State Dental Foundation ($40,000), Albany, NY, to develop resource binders on the importance of oral health and the particular problems older adults have in maintaining it, and to conduct a statewide conference to bring like-minded organizations, agencies and individuals together to begin to address the disparities in oral healthcare among the older adult population.

Ohio Dental Association ($23,000), Columbus, Ohio, to reach Ohio's older adult and elderly population, specifically semi-dependents who may suffer physical or cognitive impairment, through their caregivers via Train-the-Trainer and Train-the-Caregiver programs and a network of dental professionals who will work with agencies and care-giving groups in Ohio.

Spokane Regional Health District ($38,240), Spokane, Wash., for a "Seniors Be Wise!" public and consumer education program to raise awareness of the need for proper oral health among seniors, develop methods to spur health-related changes and engage peer leaders to deliver oral health messages in a "For Seniors ¿ By Seniors" train-the-trainer" model.

"It's simply unacceptable that so many Americans lack the access to oral health care that most of us enjoy," says Sydney R. Rollock, vice president of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare's Oral Care products. "While advances in oral care have benefited the majority of society, too many of us, especially the elderly, still suffer pain and other complications needlessly and at the expense of overall health and well-being. This is why we're so excited to partner with the ADA to help improve access to dental care for a segment of the population that truly needs our help."

"Dentistry has successfully helped millions of Americans keep their teeth as they age into their seventies and eighties," says ADA President Dr. Richard Haught. "However, some older adults face barriers in accessing dental care. We look forward to working with GlaxoSmithKline and seeing the implementation of our grant winners' programs to help older adults get the dental care they need. We also believe our grant winners' initiatives can provide examples of innovative, community-based programs for duplication in other parts of the country."

Barriers to Oral Care for the Elderly
According to the Surgeon General's report, the major factors that determine oral (and general) health and well being are individual biology and genetics; however, the report points out that access to care does make a difference.

The report goes on to say that a "complex set of factors underlies access to care and includes the need to have an informed public and policy makers, integrated and culturally competent programs and resources to pay and reimburse for care. Among other factors, the availability of insurance increases access to care."

Many elderly individuals lose their dental insurance when they retire. The situation may be worse for older women, who generally have lower incomes and may never have had dental insurance.

Medicaid funds dental care for the low-income and disabled elderly in some states, but reimbursements are low. Medicare is not designed to reimburse for routine dental care.

The GSK Consumer Healthcare/ADAF older-adult, dental-access initiative will help develop and demonstrate programs to reach out to those semi-dependent older adults, offering a bridge for them to access appropriate oral health education and treatment.

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