A Qualitative Study of Barriers to Dental Care Among Older Minority Adults Residing in Lower Income Communities

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Davis, Demetress
older adults; dental care; utilization; low income
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ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study was to explore factors that presented barriers to the use of dental care among low-income minority older adults. Participants were recruited from low-income senior housing in Hartford, CT. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted to obtain data on demographics, oral health status, oral health knowledge and factors that affected use of dental care including finances, perceived oral symptoms, cultural factors, and beliefs about dental care. Interviews were conducted with 17 participants. The major perceived barriers were ability to pay for care, transportation and fear/mistrust of the dentist. Participants may have had poor oral health as they associated seeking care with having pain or other symptoms. The main concerns of the participants were losing remaining teeth, appearance, ability to eat, and obtaining dental insurance. Participants recommended better access to dental care through on-site dental care and more convenient transportation to dental facilities. Participants seemed to have low literacy levels, which could have affected their understanding about maintaining their oral health. Community dwelling older adults experienced barriers similar to other low-income adults. However, older adults reported other barriers specific to their age group including physical disabilities, complex medical conditions and difficulty benefiting from information about their oral health. Participants would like to have dental care provided on-site in the housing complexes. Improving communication between dentists and their older patients would help reduce fear and mistrust. Other health care providers could help educate older patients about oral health, conduct simple oral health screenings and refer for acute and/or comprehensive care.