Why does the oral health of the nation’s grandparents matter so little?

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oral health of older Australians
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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, says the Australian Dental Association.

Data from its Australian Oral Health Survey has found:

  • 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 gum disease isn’t treated, it results 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).

“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,” ADA vice-president Dr Stephen Liew said.

In the run-up to the election—and in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety—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 by way of 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 residents’ daily oral health needs and to identify when dental services are required; 
  • Including an oral health assessment in the over 75 health check performed by GPs.

The response so far?

“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,” Dr Liew said.

“The Greens came up with a $77bn 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 added: “Politicians who make decisions about oral health today 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.”

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