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Dentists Are the First Line of Defense for Elder Abuse


With the American 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 Americans may be victims of elder abuse, and in some cases dentists serve as the first line of defense, according to a report in the May/June 2005 issue of General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).


Seniors' oral health is often affected by medications, some of 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 visits," says lead author Michael C. Herren, DMB.


Elder abuse victims feel ashamed and fear that reporting the abuse will result in chastisement from their caregivers. Often underreported, elder abuse appears in many forms including, but not limited to, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and financial abuse.


Forms of elder abuse:


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  • Emotional abuse signs include one being withdrawn, very quiet or fearful.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

 Reviewed: January 2012