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Dentists are the First Line of Defense for Elder Abuse

Dentists are the First Line of Defense for Elder Abuse

By Academy of General Dentistry
Jul 11, 2005, 07:00

( With the U.S. population living longer, seniors' oral health has become an important issue, as has the widespread problem of elder abuse. Every year more than 2.5 million older Americas may be victims of elder abuse, and in some cases dentists serve as the first line of defense, according to a new report in the May/June 2005 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal.

Seniors' oral health is often affected by the medications which can cause dry mouth. Many of these medications can also cause serious interactions when combined with anesthesia during certain procedures. Arthritis can make it difficult to maintain proper oral health, while dentures may sometimes prove to be uncomfortable.

These complications make it difficult for seniors to be independent when it comes to taking care of their oral health.

"Each person should be treated depending on their condition and should be given a hygiene schedule that meets their needs. Special devices may also be needed to help them complement their homecare," says AGD spokesperson Eric Shapira, DDS, MAGD.

Dentists may be the first people outside the home to have the opportunity to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse. "Dentists often have established a trusting relationship with patients through regular/routine visits," says lead author Michael C. Herren, DMB.

Often under-reported, elder abuse victims feel ashamed and fear that reporting the abuse will result in chastisement from their caregivers. Elder abuse appears in many forms including, but not limited to, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and financial abuse. It is imperative to interview seniors who may be victims of abuse and keep accurate records to ensure a thorough investigation once the abuse has been reported to the correct agency.

Different Forms of Elder Abuse:

  • Physical abuse includes any action resulting in bodily injury
  • Emotional abuse signs include one being withdrawn, very quiet or fearful
  • Sexual abuse that can be identified by dentists include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) manifested in the mouth
  • Neglect involves withholding of basic needs that are required to function
  • Financial abuse is usually perpetrated by someone in the family and can include a number of activities that exploit one's finances

The Academy of General Dentistry is a non-profit organization of more than 37,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up-to-date in the profession through continuing education. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patient's oral health needs. Learn more about AGD member dentists or find more information on dental health topics at



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