Initiative Targets Dental Elder Abuse
Neglected oral health is an overlooked form of elder abuse. According to Dr. Natalie Archer, a dental surgeon specializing in the care of elderly patients, a great number of older adults are currently suffering from terrible abuse and neglect related to oral hygiene. Dr. Archer is certainly well placed to make such an observation. For ten years, Dr. Archer has practiced mobile Geriatric Dentistry throughout Ontario in over 135 Long Term Care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals and independent residences.
Recent statistics suggest that nearly one third of older adults have untreated tooth decay and 50 per cent of those over 75 years of age have root decay. Dental elder abuse or neglect occurs when a person or system (retirement home or hospital) fails to provide necessary dental care for an older adult. Not only does such neglect cause discomfort and pain, but recent studies seem to suggest that it can contribute to illness and even preventable death.
Many elderly individuals are faced with unique challenges when it comes to dental care. Unfortunately as we age, we often become reliant on others to assist with various aspects of our day-to-day lives. One of these aspects is dental care. The elderly often become reliant on others to ensure their mouths are cleaned, either because of arthritis, which makes it difficult or impossible to brush their own teeth, or as a result of dementia which tends to result in those individuals forgetting to brush their teeth. In many cases seniors are also unable to get to the dentist. Many don’t have drivers’ licenses and it seems older adults lose a lot of their freedom when they move into a retirement home and particularly once dementia sets in. Their loved ones and/or caregivers are often busy, and unfortunately, dental care is not always seen as a priority.
In January of 2014, in an effort to bring the issues of dental health and elder abuse awareness to dentists, seniors and the broader community, Dr. Archer launched the Dental Elder Abuse Response Project (D.E.A.R.). Together with co-founder, Laura Tamblyn Watts, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, and the support of the Federal government, the D.E.A.R. project is creating senior peer-trained workshops, online videos, brochures and checklists to provide practical, hands-on material on how to recognize and prevent dental elder abuse and neglect in the Greater Toronto Area.
The D.E.A.R. project is the first of its kind in Canada. Working with dentists, hygienists, seniors, caregivers and community organizations, the D.E.A.R. Project is “Taking the Bite out of Elder Abuse”.
Thank you for reading,