Spotlight on oral health in aged care


Oral health researchers from the University of Newcastle (UON) have been successful in securing more than half a million dollars to advance a program dedicated to preventive oral health care for the elderly.

Dr Janet Wallace and her team from UON’s School of Health Sciences will receive $540,000 over three years from the Elderslee Foundation Australia Ltd to implement qualified dental hygienists and oral health therapists in five major aged care facilities on the Central Coast.

The funding will support UON’s successful Senior Smiles program, which has been assisting elderly residents on the Central Coast with their oral health for more than eight years through student placement, oral health prevention, intervention, treatment and referral pathways.

“Our research shows that, around Australia, residents in aged-care facilities are often only treated for oral health conditions when it becomes an emergency,” said Dr Wallace.

“Our program means the team is able to provide a preventive oral health focus, gain the trust of residents in order to proactively identify issues in their oral health, and fast track their treatment for specialist attention before problems become severe.”

Residents of aged care facilities are a high-risk group for dental problems, multiple medical conditions and cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which can contribute to poor oral health and accelerate the need for acute care.

“Oral health prevention in this environment is vital and Senior Smiles provides that service,” said Dr Wallace adding that the program was a great example of the UON working with the community to improve oral health for older people living in residential aged care facilities, and ultimately improve quality of life.

“Going forward, I am committed to ensuring the Senior Smiles program will be implemented in all residential aged-care facilities Australia-wide to provide a preventive focus for all residents, and to develop those really important pathways to specialist dental care.”

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