Is Europe prepared to meet the oral health needs of older people?
Objective: To discuss the preparedness of the social and health care systems and the health workforce in Europe to manage the increasing general and oral health care needs of older adults.
Background and discussion: There are large inequalities across European countries and regions in the demographic, socioeconomic and health status of the elderly. The ageing of the population and the economic crisis put at risk the existing social and health care systems and are expected to further widen the existing inequalities. Despite the increase in funding for the general health care, public funding for dental care has reduced, limiting the access for the disadvantaged elderly. Dental care is isolated from health care policies and funding. At the same time there is a significant shortage of adequately trained personnel in the care of the elderly and a shortage of training opportunities particularly at a postgraduate and continuing education level.
Conclusion: Immediate action is needed and appropriate strategies need to be implemented. Oral health prevention, delivery policies and funding should be integrated within the general health care system. Clinical protocols and guidelines need to be developed on the oral care of the elderly. Interdisciplinary training in the care of the elderly needs to be implemented for all health care workers (dentists, physicians, nurses, health care aids, social workers) at all education levels to enhance comprehensive care.