An aging population – have we got an Oral Health Policy?


  • Noel Woods Centre for Policy Studies, National University of Ireland, Cork
  • Helen Whelton Oral Health Services Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Cork
  • Tara Crowley Oral Health Services Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Cork
  • Ian Stephenson Oral Health Services Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Cork
  • Mary Ormbsy Health Services Executive



This paper highlights the impact of an aging population on the oral health of the elderly and to recommend policy measures to address the oral health inequities experienced by older people. It analyses data based on examinations carried out in the National Survey of Adult Oral Health on a sample of 714 adults aged 65 and older using commonly used parameters of dental health. The survey consisted of a clinical oral examination, a detailed questionnaire to establish behaviour patterns and attitudes, and focus group discussions to establish broader health and quality of life issues. The survey found that 65 per cent of the elderly had a medical card and thus were eligible for free dental services. However, just 14 per cent availed of the service even though 79 per cent had a clinical need for treatment. Over 20 per cent never visit the dentist and only 44 percent attend the dentist regularly. Older people were not well informed of the oral health needs and tended to visit the dentist for symptomatic reasons. Barriers to care included reduced morbidity, cost of transport, and fear of the dentist. It concludes that oral health promotion is required to raise awareness of oral health and of the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) entitlements, promotion by other healthcare professionals and carers who are in frequent contact with older people, the provision of domiciliary care for those who cannot access clinic-based services and integration between the dental profession and medical profession.


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