Burden of Oral Disease Among Older Adults and Implications for Public Health Priorities

Susan O. Griffin, PhD; Judith A. Jones, DDS, MPH, DScD; Diane Brunson, RDH, MPH; Paul M. Griffin, PhD; William D. Bailey, DDS, MPH


Am J Public Health. 2012;102(3):411-418. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Dental disease is largely preventable. Many older adults, however, experience poor oral health.
National data for older adults show racial/ethnic and income disparities in untreated dental disease andoral health–relatedquality of life. Persons reporting poor versus good health also report lower oral health– related quality of life.
On the basis of these findings, suggested public health priorities include better integrating oral health intomedical care, implementing community programs to promote healthy behaviors and improve access to preventive services, developing a comprehensive strategy to address the oral health needs of the homebound and long-term-care residents, and assessing the feasibility of ensuring a safety net that covers preventive and basic restorative services to eliminate pain and infection.


Oral health is vital to the general health and well-being of all Americans.[1] The mouth refiects a person's health and well-being throughout life. Oral diseases can have an impact on many aspects of general health and health conditions can in turn have an impact on oral health. Oral and other diseases also share common risk factors. Because the risk of chronic conditions increases with age, it is important to examine the interplay of these diseases with oral disease, and their combined impact on overall health among older adults.

We describe the scope of the problem of dental and periodontal diseases among older adults and how they can profoundly diminish quality of life and have an adverse impact on general health. Next, we characterize the burden of oral diseases with current national data and published studies. Finally, we explore roles for the public health system in improving the oral health of older US adults. Although oral cancer disproportionately affects older adults and has a high burden,[2] it is excluded because of space constraints.


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