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.
With one-quarter of people aged over 65 living with complete tooth loss and more than 65 per cent of them reporting difficulty eating, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) is calling on the Government to make better commitments to oral care within the nation’s aged care facilities.
Concerning data from the Australian Oral Health Survey has found that:
- 32 per cent of those aged 55-74 years and 25 per cent of those aged 75+ years have untreated tooth decay,
- 51 per cent of those aged 55-74 years and 69 per cent of those aged 75+ years have gum disease,
- where the gum disease wasn’t treated, it resulted in complete tooth loss for 20 per cent of those aged 75+ years,
- 22 per cent of those aged 55-74 years and 46 per cent of those aged 75+ years have an inadequate dentition (less than 21 teeth).
ADA vice president Dr Stephen Liew says what this data shows is that many older Australians don’t have the oral health they should have.
“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.”
In the run-up to the election – and in response to the recommendations of the aged care royal commission – the nation’s dentists have asked the main parties to address this issue by:
- Funding direct access to public and private dental services that maintain the basic dental and oral healthcare standards in aged care facilities, what the ADA calls a Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule;
- Including clinical indicators for oral health in the Aged Care Quality Standards;
- Including core units of study on oral health in the Cert III in Aged Care to ensure staff in aged care services are skilled to be able to care for resident’s daily oral health needs and to identify when dental services are required, and;
- Including an oral health assessment in the over 75 health check performed by GPs.
The response to the ADA wish list from the main three parties has been mixed.
“There has been a deafening silence from the Coalition as to our election asks – they’ve placed the responsibility to fund dentistry back on the shoulders of the states and territories,” Liew says.
“The Greens came up with a $77 billion plan to include dentistry in Medicare.
“Though we applaud them for putting the issue on the table, it’s too expensive for the major parties.
“Labor, while not agreeing to the specifics of our election wish list, has at least pledged to work with the ADA, should they be elected.”
Dr Liew says politicians who make decisions about oral health today need to remember that they will be old themselves in the not-too-distant future, too.
“If they ignore our remedy for fixing oral health in aged care, one day they’ll wish they’d introduced schemes that looked after the oral health of the aged better.”