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Media Coverage: Filling the gap in oral care for the elderly

Media outlet: Hospital and Healthcare
Article date: 12 May 2022

With one-quarter of people aged over 65 living with complete tooth loss and more than 65% of them reporting difficulty eating, the Australian Dental Association is calling on the government to make better commitments to oral care within the nation’s aged care facilities.

The latest Australian Oral Health Survey has found that 32% of those aged 55–74 years and 25% of those aged 75+ years have untreated tooth decay; 51% of those aged 55–74 years and 69% of those aged 75+ years have gum disease; and, where the gum disease wasn’t treated, it resulted in complete tooth loss for 20% of those aged 75+ years; 22% of those aged 55–74 years and 46% of those aged 75+ years have an inadequate dentition (fewer than 21 teeth).

“What this data shows is that many older Australians don’t have the oral health they should have,” said Dr Stephen Liew, ADA Vice President, “and if they’re one of the nation’s 190,000 aged-care residents, the lack of oral care in residential homes is a key factor.” Malnutrition, social isolation and declining general health are some of the serious impacts of not maintaining a healthy mouth - and this is never more so than with older Australians in aged care, reminds the ADA NSW branch.

“The Aged Care Royal Commission was clear about the oral health problem in aged care. At the ADA NSW we know a national aged-care dental package is absolutely affordable, with a new Senior Dental Benefits Schedule one example of how the government can help. We can build a better quality of life for vulnerable Australians in residential aged care. The dental sector is committed to working with government and the aged-care sector to solve the problem,” said the ADA NSW President Dr Michael Jonas.

In the run-up to the election — and in response to the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission — the ADA NSW branch is calling for:

Engaging an oral health practitioner: Aged care providers should engage an oral health practitioner who can provide services to people receiving care as required by their assessment or care plan (by 1 July 2024). There are researched models of care such as the Senior Smiles™ program, which demonstrate the health, social and economic benefits of improved oral health services provided to the elderly. These models of care are ready to be scaled up with various programs to suit differing needs in settings ranging from large metropolitan RACF to small multi-purpose facilities in rural and remote settings. 

Better access to health care: Establishing a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme (by 01 January 2023). Fund the dental services required to maintain a functional dentition (as defined by the World Health Organization) with a minimum of 20 teeth, and to maintain and replace dentures. Without adequate funding, access to oral health services for many older Australians is unachievable.

Aged Care Quality Standards: These should be urgently reviewed and ultimately amended by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health and Aged Care (by 31 Dec 2022) to require a commitment to best practice oral health care. Aged care providers — both RACF and home care providers, must be mandated to meet oral care standards.

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