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Vol. 74, No. 2
ISSN: 1488-2159
March 2008


Dental Service Utilization by Independently Dwelling Older Adults in Manitoba, Canada


• Douglas J. Brothwell, MSc •
• Michelle Jay, DMD •
• Dieter J. Schönwetter, PhD •

A b s t r a c t

Four current trends should be of concern to Canadian dentistry: first, the Canadian population is aging and the proportion of older adults is increasing; second, seniors are retaining more natural teeth than in the past; third, oral disease is common in the elderly; and, finally, these high levels of need are not translating into effective demand for dental care. It will be a major challenge for the Canadian dental profession to ensure that older adults, with their variations in social and functional status, have appropriate access to dental services in the future. Knowledge of rates and determinants of dental visitation will be important for planning purposes.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to determine the rate of use of dental services by independently living older dentate and edentulous adults and the factors affecting utilization.

Methods: Data were derived from the cross-sectional Manitoba Study of Health and Aging. A personal interview included over 240 questions addressing sociodemographics, well-being, oral and general health, and health service utilization. Variables that were significantly associated with visitation on bivariate analysis were entered into separate logistic regressions for dentate and edentulous participants. The Anderson model of health service utilization was used to categorize variables with significant independent effects as predisposing, enabling and need factors.

Results: The 1,751 participants had a mean age of 76.2 years (standard deviation 7.1); 58.5% were women and 72.7% were edentulous. Only 383 participants (21.9%) reported having visited a dentist in the past 6 months. The visitation rate for dentate seniors (36.2%) was significantly higher (p < 0.001) than that for edentulous seniors (13.5%). Multiple logistic regression analysis revealed significant independent effects of 5 variables for each group. Predisposing factors predicting visitation for both groups were higher level of education and frequent use of professional services. For dentate adults, dental visitation was predicted by 3 enabling factors (main supporting person not a family member, fewer restrictions on activities of daily living and residence in a major urban centre) but no need factors. For edentulous participants, dental visitation was predicted by only 1 enabling factor (higher income) and 2 need factors (recent dental problems and longer duration of denture use).

Discussion: Regular dental visits are important in maintaining good health, for edentulous as well as dentate seniors. Despite this fact, older Manitobans, especially the edentulous, are not accessing care in an appropriate manner. One unexpected finding was that despite equivalent abilities, cognitive status and health problems, those who had a family member as their main supporting person were less likely to have a dental visit than those supported by non-family members. This may relate to resistance from family members to provide appropriate support for dental visits, an issue considered by some to be a form of elder abuse.

Conclusion: Despite some common predisposing factors, the variables influencing dental utilization were different for dentate and edentulous participants, with enabling factors playing a bigger role for the dentate and need factors of greater importance for the edentulous. These findings seem to indicate that older dentate adults who visit the dentist do so because they can, while older edentulous adults who visit the dentist do so because they must.


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