Experiences and perceptions of oral health and oral health care among a sample of older New Zealanders

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Most research on older people’s oral health has been quantitative. A need for more in-depth understanding of the oral health of that age group has pointed to a need for more qualitative investigations.


To explore experiences and perceptions of oral health and oral health care among an ethnically-mixed sample of older New Zealanders.


In-depth interviews were conducted with 24 older people in two communities in New Zealand’s South Island. Thematic analysis of transcribed data was undertaken.


Three main themes that emerged were: (1) the processes of negotiating a tension between cost and convenience of access; (2) the experiential constraining of oral health maintenance; and (3) trusting in dental professionals. These serve to organise processes such as normalising, justifying and social comparisons that create an equilibrium or tolerance and acceptance of what might otherwise be considered to be relatively poor oral health.


We identified a number of shared experiences which affect older people’s ability to maintain their oral health in the face of material and social barriers to oral health care. Because expectations were generally lower, there was greater concordance between experience and expectation, and people tended to be fairly satisfied with their oral health and the care they had received.

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