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The significance of oral health in the lives of Cantonese-speaking elderly Chinese immigrants in Vancouver, Canada Hui, Nelson T.A.

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of my study is to seek information on perceptions of oral health and related healthcare among Chinese elders in Vancouver, and to begin the process of identifying the role of Chinese culture and health-related beliefs in the lives of elderly Chinese immigrants in Canada. Methods: I conducted open-ended interviews with a purposeful selection of 8 frail Chinese elders in Vancouver’s Chinatown, 6 community-based elders who were attending a community centre in East Vancouver, and 2 interviews with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinicians working in private practices. Each interview was audio-recorded in Cantonese, summarized in English and transcribed, and the transcription was checked for accuracy against the original tape-recording by another Cantonese speaker. The transcription was analyzed systematically for specific themes based initially on the conceptual framework of the International Classification of Function (WHO, 2001) and current models of oral health (MacEntee, 2006, Brondani, 2007). Results: The results indicate that the elders are influenced by a mixture of Chinese and Western health-related beliefs and behaviors. They are aware that their current oral health is influenced strongly by the care they received as children or adults before they immigrated to Canada. They all feel that oral health has an important influence on general health, and that general health is more important than appearance. However, some seniors return to Hong Kong, China or their country of origin from Southeast Asia for ongoing dental treatment because they cannot afford dental treatment in Canada. Otherwise, their beliefs and behaviors on the significance of oral health in old age seem to correspond closely to reports from Caucasian elders in the British Commonwealth. Conclusion: My findings show that the cost of dental services is a major barrier and concern to elderly Chinese immigrants in Vancouver. Nonetheless, the participants had found creative ways of accessing dental care. Poor oral care in the childhood and youth may have lasting effects on their oral health in later years. A culture of TCM remains influential among some of the participants, but others are more open to Western biomedical knowledge. The effect of Western acculturation seems to occur on a continuum with traditional health beliefs based on TCM at one end and Western scientific knowledge at the other end. The participants are in various stages of acculturation of their oral health beliefs and behaviors, with some still largely in the TCM mode and others more accepting of Western concepts. This study may pave the way for further studies about oral health-related belief, behaviors, coping & adapting skills, and acculturation of visible minority seniors in Canada.

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