Share your innovative oral health program!

The Administration on Aging would like to acknowledge the work of the Aging Services Network in enhancing the oral health of older adults across the country.

Submit an oral health program to be considered for inclusion in the Community Guide to Adult Dental Program implementation.

Find out more about the ACL/OWH Oral Health Project.

Oral Health Project

Submit an oral health program to be considered for inclusion in the Community Guide to Adult Dental Program implementation. Please fill out the ACL Call for Oral Health Programs submission form.

Background on the ACL/OWH Oral Health Project

The mission of ACL is to maximize the independence, well-being, and health of older adults, people with disabilities across the lifespan, and their families and caregivers. Because oral health is integral to overall health, ACL is committed to improving the oral health of older adults. In October 2014, with funding from the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OWH), ACL entered into a three-year contract with The Lewin Group to identify and promote vetted, low-cost, community-based oral health services for older adults.

Oral Health Project Deliverables

Environmental Scan, Promising Practice Criteria for Community-Based Oral Health Programs Serving Older Adults, Community Guide to Adult Dental Program Implementation in a registry format, and Dissemination Materials and Products

Community Guide

The Guide will be an accessible, web-based, and downloadable resource for communities interested in building an oral health program(s) for older adults. The Guide will be posted on ACL's Oral Health page in 2017.

The Guide will be easily updatable with basic and advance search functions, links for resources, and a contact form for inquiries. For each program included in the Guide, content will include three major components: promising practice program example, evaluation template, and funding options.

Environmental Scan

The scan will be comprehensive and include the following diverse content areas:

Programs for older adults in both rural and urban areas, older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, persons with dementia, and individuals of different ethnicities and cultures, including special programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Programs that have been attempted but not sustained, and programs initially developed for other populations (e.g. children, persons with disabilities) that may be replicable for older adults.

Model programs from other countries, as appropriate.

Root causes of barriers to receiving care, Programs that are provided in conjunction with other services (for example, oral health care services in primary care settings) and those that provide flexibility (e.g., using mobile vans).


Five seniors smiling Oral health, regardless of age, is integral to overall good health. It is an important but often overlooked aspect of an older adult’s general health. Daily oral hygiene, the ability to access routine professional oral health services, and oral health education are all key factors that can improve the oral health of older Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a quarter of all persons age 65 and older have no remaining teeth. Nearly one-third of older adults have untreated tooth decay. Severe gum disease is associated with chronic disease and severe health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.


Older Adults and Oral Health: Inspiring Community-Based Partnerships for Healthy Mouths Webinar (May 15, 2013)

This webinar explores the oral health status of older adults in the U.S., provides useful resources, and highlights two innovative community approaches to improving oral health access for older adults.

Who’s Leading the Leading Health Indicators? (August 20, 2012)

Oral Health Problems

Whether caring for natural teeth or dentures, daily oral hygiene can mean that older adults will be free of oral pain, maintain a well-balanced diet, and enjoy interpersonal relationships and a positive self-image. Without practicing good oral health, advancing age may put older adults at risk for a number of oral health problems, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diminished sense of taste
  • Root decay
  • Gum disease
  • Uneven jawbone caused by tooth loss
  • Denture-induced tissue inflammation
  • Overgrowth of fungus in the mouth, known as thrush
  • Attrition (loss of teeth structure by mechanical forces)
  • Oral cancer

Oral health problems in older adults make it more difficult for them to consume a healthy diet. Physical factors directly affecting nutrition include: changes in chewing ability; dry mouth, a common side effect of medicine; untreated tooth decay; loose or missing teeth, dentures, or implants; and ill-fitting bridges or dentures. Regular oral health care can improve and prevent oral health problems.

Accessing Affordable Dental Care

Good oral hygiene, a healthy lifestyle, and regular dental check-ups are all important steps to a healthy mouth. While it can be difficult for older adults to access typical health care settings, it can be especially difficult to access the oral health care system. Barriers to accessing affordable oral health care include:

  • Living on a fixed income
  • Cost of oral health care
  • Limited dental insurance for retirees (not included in Medicare)
  • Limited oral health programs that offer affordable services
  • Mobility and transportation limitations
  • Translation for immigrant older adults

Accessing dental care can be especially difficult for nursing home residents. Paying for dental care using Incurred Medical Expenses (IME) helps long-term care residents get dental treatment and allows dental practices to be reimbursed for services. IME is routinely used for eyeglasses and hearing aids, but many people are unaware that it is also available for dental treatment. A resource for IME billing is Suggested Steps for Residents and their Representatives.

Resources are available to help overcome barriers to accessing affordable oral health care. The Health Resources and Services Administration funds Community Health Clinics (CHC) that care for people even if they have no dental health insurance. The majority of CHCs provide dental services. Find a federally funded health center near you, where you pay what you can afford based on your income.

If transportation is a barrier to receiving care, the Eldercare Locator can direct you to a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). The majority of AAAs provide some form of transportation assistance or referral. For more information on the Eldercare Locator or services for older adults and caregivers, call 1-800-677-1116.

Other options to help overcome barriers include:

Innovative Programs

From developing public private partnerships to providing information clearinghouses, the Aging Service Network and its partners work to help address the oral health needs of older adults. A number of innovative oral health programs, some funded by the Older Americans Act (Title III), include:

Virtual Dental Home Demonstration Project

The Pacific Center for Special Care at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry (Pacific) is demonstrating a new model of care. By creating a "Virtual Dental Home" in sites throughout California, Pacific hopes to deliver oral health services in locations where people live, work, play, go to school, and receive social services. The Pacific Center has partnered with a number of funding organizations to implement this demonstration project to bring much-needed oral health services to these underserved populations. These populations range from children in Head Start Centers and elementary schools to older adults and adults with disabilities in residential care settings and nursing homes.

Louisiana Smiles for Life Program

This education-based program is specifically geared toward independent older adults. It is supported by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Oral Health Program (OHP) and the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs (GOEA). The program was developed as a part of the LA Oral Health Coalition’s Oral Health for the Elderly Task force and was a collaborative effort between the OHP, GOEA, and the Capital Area Agency on Aging to address the educational needs of persons participating in Councils on Aging (COA) congregate meals program. Included in the Louisiana Smiles for Life Program Manual is information on how to get the Louisiana Smiles for Life Program started in a local non-profit group, Meal Site or Senior Club. Information is in a “lesson plan” format on nutrition, denture care, and the overall importance of oral health and hygiene. Groups or COAs that want to present the program may do so by downloading the manual.

Last modified on 03/05/2021

Back to Top