The Center for Oral Health has received a $170,000 grant from The California Wellness Foundation to conduct an oral health assessment of older adults in California.

California is home to nearly seven million residents who are 60 or older. Within a few years, one in five Californians will be 65 or older, and will be increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, financial resources and living conditions. As people age, they continue to be plagued by oral health problems; in fact, in the U.S. today, only 28 percent of older adults (ages 65-74) have dental coverage. For those 75 and older, only 17 percent enjoy dental coverage. National estimates show that 25 percent of adults over 65 have lost all of their teeth. Yet the oral health care needs of older adults in the U.S. receive relatively little attention, and almost no public health or public policy interventions, said Center for Oral Health (COH) Executive Director Conrado Barzaga, MD.

The two-year project will assess the oral health care needs of older adults in a first phase. A second phase will explore and propose solutions to deliver oral health care services to those who need it the most. This work will require a collective effort, Barzaga said. COH will complete the assessment through partnerships with various organizations across the state.

“This is a significant benchmark for the Center for Oral Health, and a testament to the good work the organization has done over the past 29 years,” Barzaga said. “Oral health is an important dimension of well-being. Over the next few months, we will be addressing this issue head-on. This grant offers us an opportunity to expand our work and collaborate with partners across the state, building upon the solid infrastructure and strengthened capacity through our affiliation with Western University of Health Sciences.”

The Center for Oral Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting public oral health, with a focus on children and vulnerable populations. COH is housed on WesternU’s Pomona, California campus.

Funding of this assessment is a vital step toward addressing a health care challenge that is too often unvoiced, said College of Dental Medicine Dean Steven Friedrichsen, DDS.

“We recognize that the Center for Oral Health is ideally suited to this project,” Friedrichsen said. “Their expertise in this arena, combined with strong partnerships and affiliations, can help leverage the findings into increased political support for improved health outcomes for the older adult.”