Oral Health Issues of Aging Americans Addressed on Capitol Hill

On October 4, the topic of oral health issues facing older adults was the topic of conversation at an event held by Research!America on Capitol Hill. The not-for-profit organization is the largest public education and advocacy alliance of its kind in the county, committed solely to making research to improve health a higher national priority. The event, “Oral Health in an Aging Nation: An Unmet Public Health Challenge,” was held to inform policymakers of the importance of the issue. According to a recent article from the American Dental Association (ADA), topics discussed included the economic and societal impact from the lack of access to services, the connection between oral health and other systemic diseases, and the need for more research.

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

Dr. Judith Jones, director at the Center for Clinical REsearch at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, gave a presentation on how poor oral health affects overall health, ultimately compromising quality of life.  According to Dr. Jones, dental services are the No. 2 unmet need for aging adults. Similar presentations were given by Beth Truett, president and chief executive officer of Oral Health America and Dr. Fotinos S. Panagakos, Ph.D., global director, Scientific AFfairs, Colgate-Palmolive Co. While Truett focused on the importance of community involvement in policy change, Dr. Panagakos stressed that prevention is crucial, adding that corporate partnerships are necessary to fund research.

Following the presentations, a questions-and-answers session was moderated by Ellie Dehoney, vice president, policy and advocacy at Research!America. One of the more pertinent questions asked was about why senior oral health issues still don’t receive the necessary attention of policymakers despite the evidence of its importance. Industry experts on the panel agreed that an antiquated Medicare system and the separation of medicine and dentistry are among the reasons. We can only hope that through events like these, enough awareness is raised that real change occurs at the federal level to help improve access to quality dental care for all citizens, especially in our senior population.

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