Michael MacEntee, Chris Wyatt, and Michele Williams formed the ELDERS (Elders Link with Dental Education, Research and Service) group, now known as the UBC Geriatric Dentistry Program, to include dentists, dental hygienists, social workers, sociologists, geriatricians and statisticians from UBC who have focused their attention on oral health in old age. Chris Wyatt is director of geriatrics.

The group was among the first in Canada to document the distribution of oral health problems in long-term care facilities, and to explore ways for managing the problems. The initial studies revealed how difficult it was for the residents of facilities to access dental care, and how dentists felt about providing care in this setting. In fact, very few of the residents examined by the group had seen a dentist, dental hygienist or denturist since entering a facility. Consequently, there were widespread problems with poorly fitting dentures, rampant caries, broken fillings, gingivitis and periodontal disease. Following the initial studies, the group looked more specifically at the rampant caries to isolate the predictors of root and coronal caries in this age group. More recently, there have been investigations on preventive strategies for dental diseases ranging from the long-term use of antibacterial agents, to new educational programs for care-aides. Similar investigations were taken by the group to look at oral health problems in older adults who are relative healthy and who live independently in the community. Again, the overall focus was to explore the significance of the mouth in old age in a way that might throw light on the cause of oral problems as age progresses. The results thus far offer very realistic insights to dentistry for older adults, and a keen awareness of the importance of mouth-care to health and well being in general.

On another front, the research group has addressed the problems experienced by dentists who provide care in long-term care facilities. We know now that dentists, like physicians, feel less comfortable and less confident with this part of dental practice, especially if they provide treatment within the facilities. Efforts are underway at present to enhance the undergraduate and postgraduate education of dentists and dental hygienists so that the dental profession in the future will feel more adept at managing oral health problems in our aging population. It seems that the oral health in long-term care competes with a variety of other demands and priorities confronting nurses and care-aides. Quite simply, the nursing staff at present is lacking both the education and the time to provide care adequately for the oral health-care of the residents. This realization has brought the ELDERS group to develop and test an educational program specifically to address this problem.

In summary, the UBC Geriatric Dentistry Program is working to explain and address many of the problems facing frail dependent older adults. It is attempting to provide a better understanding of the role of dentists  and dental hygienists in the population.