10/27/2011 12:01 EDT | Updated 12/26/2011 05:12 EST

Many Ontario seniors don't see a dentist regularly; could impair health: study

TORONTO - A new study finds that 45 per cent of Ontario seniors did not visit a dentist last year, which could increase their chances of chronic diseases.

Principal investigator Dr. Arlene Bierman says poor oral health can affect a person's ability to chew and digest food properly, leading to inadequate nutrition.

The findings suggest that our society needs to rethink the lack of universal coverage for dental visits, in order to keep seniors healthy as they age, she says.

The results are included in a report by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital and Women's College Hospital in Toronto, and the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences.

The researchers say women make up the majority of the older population and they're more likely than men to have two or more chronic conditions, as well as being less likely to be physically active.

The study released Thursday also reports that many health-care providers have little training in caring for older adults.

"It's never too late to improve quality of life and health for women, regardless of age," Dr. Paula Rochon, a senior scientist at Women's College Research Institute, said in a statement.

"In fact, a focus on strategies to improve health in the older population can help prevent chronic disease and its associated complications."