California dental hygienists: Improve oral healthcare for seniors

Sept. 26, 2008
Dental hygiene association calls for greater access to care and education that is needed as baby-boomer generation ages.

With Baby Boomers on the brink of exploding into retirement and old age, the California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) recently called upon the state to provide senior citizens with more and better access to oral healthcare.

The group also is asking all Californians to pay more attention to the oral health of their aging parents and loved ones, and to gain a better understanding of how prescription drugs and other factors are linked to oral and total body health.

"One of the simplest and most effective ways to protect the health of seniors is unfortunately one of the most neglected," said Noel Kelsch, president of CDHA. "Too many seniors are not receiving the care they need, and that number will reach a crisis point if we don't make plans now."

According to the organization, untold numbers of California seniors likely are not receiving proper oral healthcare. Nursing home patients and the homebound not only have difficulty visiting dental clinics but they often miss basic daily oral care, CDHA said, and many elderly cannot care for themselves due to paralysis or memory loss.

Lack of care can result in tooth decay, gum disease and loss of teeth, which can adversely impact eating and can lead to malnutrition as well as a decline in overall health, said CDHA.

"People don't realize how poor oral health can contribute to the downward spiral in the mental and physical health of our parents and grandparents," said Kelsch, who offered the following advice to the California seniors and those caring for the elderly:

• Become more educated on ways to maintain optimum oral health

• Realize that more than 400 commonly prescribed medications and medical conditions can cause xerostomia (dry mouth), which contributes to tooth decay

• Check your loved one's teeth for obvious signs of decay or inflammation. Prompt them to be effective with daily oral home care

• Try to use products containing Xylitol — a natural ingredient used in toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gums and breath mints — that helps prevent tooth decay

Contact a specially trained and educated dental hygienist (known as a RDHAP) who can make house calls. A list and more information can be found at and other resources.

"These are some simple things that seniors, caregivers and relatives can do to help protect California's elderly," said Kelsch. "Additionally, our organization will continue to fight for seniors who deserve access to basic dental hygiene services. We encourage nursing homes to make it a priority to open their doors so that qualified dental hygienists can help care for their elderly residents."

The California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state's dental hygiene profession. The organization was established 20 years ago when two regional associations merged to form a unified professional group. CDHA represents thousands of dental hygienists throughout the state and is dedicated to expanding opportunities for the profession and access to care for all Californians.