Physicians and dentists play important role in smoking practices of the elderly

May 30, 2002

If you see your doctor and dentist on a regular basis you will be more likely to quit smoking or remain a nonsmoker, according to a study published in the June 2002 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

"Having a regular physician and seeing that physician recently seems to have an important association with whether or not an older patient is a current smoker," according to Mark S. Kaplan and Jason T. Newsom of Portland State University and Bentson H. McFarland of the Oregon Health & Science University. "Older adults' contacts with physicians and dentists are strongly negatively associated with smoking among older adults."

Dr. Kaplan and his colleagues base their conclusion on a study of one of the largest samples of older adults in which correlates of late-life smoking have been investigated. The sample also included one of the largest arrays of social and demographic variables as predictors of smoking behavior to date.

The study is based on the analysis of data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS), a large population-based longitudinal study conducted by Statistics Canada. NPHS surveyed 73,402 households across Canada. Dr. Kaplan and his associates used the health files of 13,363 persons age 65 and older who had complete data.

In the study current smokers made up 15 percent of the sample, 41 percent were former smokers and 44 percent never smoked. The majority of older smokers had not visited a dentist in more than five years. More specifically, individuals without a regular physician and with infrequent physical and dental checkups were more likely to be current smokers.

Dr. Kaplan and his associates hope that the study will help guide dentists and physicians when they see their older patients. "Although physicians have a unique opportunity to intervene when their patients need help to quit smoking, previous studies have shown that fewer than half ask their patients about tobacco use." While dentists are more likely than physicians "to estimate their patients' tobacco use accurately, they were less likely to assess and intervene, and less supportive of tobacco cessation, according to prior studies. Given the frequency of dental care among older smokers, communication and cooperation between physicians and dentists are of crucial importance with respect to the management of late-life smoking," noted Dr. Kaplan and his associates.
The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences is a refereed publication of The Gerontological Society of America, the national organization of professionals in the field of aging.

The Gerontological Society of America

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