Older Peoples' Perceptions of Oral Health: 'it's Just Not That Simple'
Objectives: Little is known about older persons’ perceptions of oral health and oral health care. The purpose of this study was to explore the viewpoint of older adults’ regarding their oral health care practices.
Methods: A qualitative interpretive methodology was employed comprising three analytic levels: coding of data into concepts, analysis of concepts into themes, followed by an in-depth analysis of relationships within concepts and between themes. In-depth individual interviews were conducted with 19 participants aged 65 to 87 years.
Results: Older people’s decision to access oral health care involves complex and personally meaningful strategies. A dental visit surfaces hopes and fears based on past and present experiences. Mouth and teeth are not merely objects of dental care; they represent a person’s social and relational self. Age-related changes challenge the relational self as represented in societal ideal images of youth and perfection (the perfect smile). This study highlights older peoples’ resilience and determination when faced with the dilemmas in accessing oral health care – it costs, personally as well as financially. Contrary to the assumption that older peoples’ oral health status is related to neglect, rather for many, it is the result of the intersection of their history with technological advances.
Conclusions: These findings challenge oral health care practitioners to be sensitive to the contexts affecting their older client’s oral health care status. They do not ‘just go’ to the dentist; they bring with them their past dental experiences and their hopes for the future. It matters how one is treated at this vulnerable time.