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Improving the Oral Health of California’s Older Adults

July 26, 2016

Justice in Aging is excited to launch a new project: Improving Oral Health of California’s Older Adults. Oral health is a critical aspect of overall health for people of all ages, but especially for older adults. Unfortunately, the oral health needs of older adults, and particularly low-income older adults, in California have been neglected. As a result, older adults encounter significant challenges when attempting to access oral healthcare and consequently experience severe mouth pain, tooth loss, and the worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and diabetes.

“She will probably just opt to have all her teeth pulled because it’s cheaper and easier than coming back to the dentist over and over.” -Caretaker for a Filipino older adult

Our new project aims to improve oral health for older adults through educating local advocates and service providers on how they can help the older adults they serve access oral health care. We will also strongly advocate for both state and national policy changes to improve oral health care for California’s low-income older adults.

To kick off the new project, we released an issue brief and partnered with the Center for Oral Health in a webinar. Older adults have oral health needs that are distinct from younger populations. The brief and webinar summarize the unique needs of older adults. For example, dental coverage for older adults is confusing and non-comprehensive; there is a shortage of dental providers trained in treating older adults; and the treatment needs for the aging population are complicated by other health conditions.

In an effort to start the conversation to improve the oral health of California’s older adults, we also propose several recommendations. For example, Medi-Cal dental coverage should be expanded to include services that would benefit older adults, like root canals for back teeth and the provision of partial dentures; California should conduct an oral health needs survey of older adults; and the state should work to increase the number of dental clinics co-located with health clinics.

Over the next several months, we will begin offering trainings and distributing written materials to advocates and aging service providers on what dental coverage is available for older adults, how to access the care these programs cover, and what to do when there are problems obtaining care. If you are interested in oral health advocacy, please contact Amber Cutler at

Beyond Lip Service is a Justice in Aging blog series featuring work to improve oral health for older adults, in California and across the nation.

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