Culturally and linguistically diverse personal care workers’ own experiences with dental care may influence the care they provide residents, and regular training is required, a new study finds.
There have been longstanding calls for residential aged care to improve its approach to dental health, as residents often have higher needs and poorer oral health outcomes than seniors living in the community.
A new study by researchers at the University of Western Australia has examined how CALD personal care workers understood oral care and their experiences in delivering it to residents. Despite the proportion of CALD workers in residential aged care, the researchers noted this was one of the first studies to focus on oral health within this group.
Some 15 care workers from African background were interviewed, 75 per cent of whom had worked in residential aged care in Australia for over three years; 80 per cent had some form of tertiary qualification.
While all participants considered dental care as important for wellbeing and quality of life, most had never personally accessed dental services in Australia or their native country. When they had, it was generally in response to dental emergencies or pain.
“Few participants mentioned the need for preventative oral care such as routine scaling and polishing and dental check-ups as reasons for visiting dental practitioners,” the study reported.
The study suggested these experiences influenced the delivery of oral care to residents. Further, some participants mentioned there was insufficient training and understanding among CALD workers about how to provide oral care, noting it was given less priority in training compared to other areas such as manual handling or first aid. Some participants reported receiving initial education about oral health in their professional training, but said there was often not sufficient development to maintain their knowledge in practice.
One participant said:
“Most of the carers do not have knowledge of dental treatment. Many of them don’t even brush the residents’ teeth. When they (residents) don’t have any teeth in their mouth they (carers) don’t even know that the gum is part of the oral care.”
Where participants had accessed dental health care for themselves or had some dental training, they were more likely to carry out regular oral care for residents, the study found.
Participants also noted that other workplace demands competed with providing oral health care, including high workload, time restrictions, and residents’ physical and behavioural difficulties. Others said that management did not make dental care a priority.
A significant number of the workers thought residents’ were not receiving adequate dental care and noted a lack of dental professional visiting the facility or on staff.
“Other health care professionals such as nurses, GPs, unlike the dental professionals, visit the residents, I never seen a dentist coming to the aged care facilities,” said one participant.
The study recommended regular training that incorporated workers’ attitudes, experiences, and expectations on how to achieve the best oral health for residents.
However, the research also indicated that improved training for personal care workers alone may not improve the quality of oral care in facilities, given the limited influence such workers may have on organisational practice. It suggested there needed to be better education for all stakeholders in the sector.
The study recognised that findings were limited to a specific CALD group and metropolitan area, and indicated research be extended to look at other CALD backgrounds.
The study was published in the journal Gerodontology.
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