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Dr Peter Foltyn warns of "dental Armageddon" among the elderly

Top dentist warns older Australians risk death from tooth decay
The Sunday Telegraph
28 October 2018

Australia is facing a “dental Armageddon” from its ageing population, a leading dentist has warned.

With more people living into their 90s and beyond, St Vincent’s Hospital’s head dentist Dr Peter Foltyn said the oral health of seniors was deteriorating and would be the cause of extreme pain and even death.

“There could be a dental Armageddon in a few years’ time and people die because of their teeth,” Dr Foltyn told The Sunday Telegraph.

“I go to a nursing home on a regular basis and I’ve seen some nasty deaths where patients have had some excruciating pain and discomfort in their mouths and there is just no easy resolution.”

The daily upkeep of teeth for frail, older Australians can be problematic, particularly for those suffering from arthritis or conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Medications for chronic diseases in the elderly can also cause dry mouth, which can lead to severe tooth decay and gum disease.

Dr Foltyn, who is presenting at a conference this week on geriatric dentistry, said despite warnings from a growing number of dentists, the health impacts of bad teeth in the elderly had been overlooked for too long.

“We know the problem, we understand the problems there but we’re banging our heads on the proverbial brick wall because the powers-that-be don’t seem to listen,” he said.

To prevent a future health crisis, Dr Foltyn said dental checks must be included in the 75-year-old health assessment and also for those entering aged care homes. He said doctors were ignoring the issue “because they don’t understand the implications”.

“I have never received a referral from a medical GP to assess a person undergoing an over 75 health assessment,” Dr Foltyn said.

“Clearly the teeth and mouth are not part of the body.”

Dr Foltyn said he recently had an 81-year-old dementia patient, who had nearly all his teeth, develop an abscess that needed treatment under general anaesthesia.

“The combination of the infection, associated delirium, general anaesthetic and dementia kept him in hospital for a further 27 days,” he said.

“That’s not affordable to the commonwealth or private health funds. Had this gentleman received a dental assessment, which fits in with the aims of this sensible program, the enormous costs to both the commonwealth and state and the family could have been avoided. This man went from living in his own home to an aged care facility as a result.”

Dr Foltyn also called on the federal government to fund an awareness campaign for dental health.

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