Oral Health: An Essential Element of Healthy Aging

The Gerontological Society of America launched an oral health initiative with the goals of enabling older adults to maintain their oral health as part of a healthy aging process and to assist researchers, educators, practitioners, and policymakers to identify areas of needed activity and research on the topic of oral health in older adults.

A key focus of the initiative is advancing the belief that helping older adults maintain good oral health involves oral health professionals and also an interprofessional team of “oral health champions”, including primary care and specialty physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, and others who can advocate for, educate about, and provide direct care supporting oral health. 

This multi-faceted initiative is comprised of a variety of interrelated elements including:

  • The Oral Health Workgroup, a team of experts charged with increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of appropriate oral care and strengthening the impact that all members of healthcare and caregiver teams have on ensuring good oral care for older adults. The GSA Workgroup on Oral Health seeks an interprofessional approach to improved oral health for all older adults.
  • The GSA Oral Health Interest Group, providing an opportunity for persons interested in the issue of oral health as an essential element of healthy aging to meet, exchange, information and resources, and make contacts with persons who have similar interests.
  • The disruption in long-term care facilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created opportunities for positive long-term changes in this setting, according to a GSA publication titled "Pandemic-Driven Disruptions in Oral Health:10 Transformative Trends in Care for Older Adult." The transformative trends with the potential to improve oral health care for residents is based on two webinars developed by the GSA Oral Health Workgroup and presented by nationally recognized speakers under the theme of “Geriatric Oral Health and COVID-19: Old Problems, New Challenges – Part 1 and Part 2.”
  • The development and publication of the What's Hot newsletter, "Oral Health: An Essential Element of Healthy Aging." Intended for an interprofessional audience, this publication discusses the impact of poor oral health in older adults, relationships between oral health, systemic conditions, functional abilities, and healthy aging, as well as current challenges and potential opportunities in the area of geriatric oral health.
  • The convening of an Oral Health Forum in March 2017 of leading experts and key stakeholders committed to healthy aging to identify solutions and create a roadmap to improving the interprofessional oral health care of older adults. More than 40 participants from industry, government, academia, research, practice, and not-for profit membership organizations attended. Recommendations of the participants were incorporated into the July 2017 white paper (see below).
  • The July 2017 white paper, "Interprofessional Solutions for Improving Oral Health in Older Adults: Addressing Access Barriers, Creating Oral Health Champions," which features the recommendations of the Oral Health Forum participants. The goal of the paper is to improve clinical and other outcomes in older adults by focusing all members of the health care team (medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, and allied health professions) on whole-person, interprofessional care that recognizes the inherent connection between oral and systemic health and is valued in the health care system.
  • A symposium at the IAGG World Congress on July 24, 2017 in which members of the Oral Health Workgroup discussed the White Paper and presented the findings of the Oral Health Forum.
  • Serving on the scientific advisory committee of A State of Decay, Vol IV, 2018.
  • A collection of resources including links to oral health-related organizations and initiatives, publications and presentations, research opportunities and funding. This section will be updated as additional resources are identified. Please help us grow this collection by sending relevant resources to add to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This infographic provides an overview of the GSA Oral Health Initiative.

This program is developed by GSA and supported by GlaxoSmithKline and Mars Wrigley Confectionery.



GSA 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting Online Momentum Discussions

Join the Oral Health Interest Group of The Gerontological Society of America for a pair of information-packed GSA Momentum Discussions exploring the challenges of providing oral health care to older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging solutions with the potential to change practice forever.

Older adults have faced problems with access and affordability of essential oral health care for years. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this already-bad situation as well as created new problems. Creative strategies and resources are needed to help older adults realize the importance of oral health to their overall health and help them feel comfortable when they need preventive or restorative oral care. Innovations with teledentistry can help triage potential problems in long-term care facilities and in some cases enable treatment in an environment that is safe and reassuring for the patient.

GSA’s Oral Health Workgroup has assembled a distinguished team of experts to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the oral health of older adults. In these Momentum Discussions, panelists will engage participants on how the interprofessional health care team can help older adults and care partners address geriatric oral health issues in the community and long-term care facilities, additional research opportunities that may emerge post-COVID-19, and real-world innovations for improving oral health care for older adults in the COVID-19 era and beyond.

Geriatric Oral Health and COVID-19: Old Problems, New Challenges, Part 1: Issues and Research Opportunities

Friday, October 9, 2020

Presented by:

  • Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, John A. Hartford Foundation (Impact of COVID-19 on Geriatric Health & Well-being)
  • Leonardo Marchini, DDS, MSD, PhD, University of Iowa (COVID-19 Geriatric Oral Health Issues)
  • Bei Wu, PhD, New York University (Emerging Geriatric Oral Health Research Needs in the COVID-19 Era)
  • Stephen Shuman, DDS, MS, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry (Moderator)

This webinar is supported by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

Geriatric Oral Health and COVID-19: Old Problems, New Challenges, Part 2: Case Studies

Friday, October 16, 2020

Presented by:

  • Michael J. Helgeson, DDS, Apple Tree Dental (Successes and Challenges With Teledentistry: Insights From the COVID-19 Pandemic)
  • Jeffrey E. Dodge, DMD (Pearls From the Pandemic: Experiences in Oral Health Practice and Long-Term Care)
  • Samuel Zwetchkenbaum, DDS, MPH (Pearls From the Pandemic: Experiences in Oral Health Practice and Long-Term Care)
  • Stephen Shuman, DDS, MS, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry (Moderator)

These webinars are supported by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

GSA Resources

Organizations and Initiatives



Publications and Presentations


Journal Articles and Supplements

News Articles




Caregiver Resources

Oral health and aging is an important topic for both older adults and caregivers. Check out these fact sheets about oral health and older adults from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) which focus on how caregivers can help older adults take care of their mouths over time:

You can also find more information about taking care of your teeth and mouth as you age on the National Institute on Aging website.

Research Opportunities and Funding

Workgroup Members

Stephen Shuman, DDS, MS, FGSA (chair)
Professor and Director,
Oral Health Services for Older Adults Program
Department of Developmental & Surgical Sciences
School of Dentistry
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Xi Chen, DDS, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry
College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa

Elisa M. Ghezzi, DDS, PhD
Geriatric Dentist, Voiage Dental/Generations Portable Dentistry
Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor
School of Dentistry
University of Michigan
Consultant, Michigan Geriatric Dentistry Network
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Susie Keepper MSN, APRN, GCNS-BC, RDH
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Michèle J. Saunders, DMD, MS, MPH
Adjunct Professor
Department of Psychiatry
University of Texas Health Science Center
San Antonio, Texas

Bei Wu, PhD
Dean’s Chair Professor in Global Health
Rory Meyers College of Nursing
New York University
New York, New York


gskThis program is developed by GSA and supported by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.