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Call for rural facilities to develop partnerships with oral health services


An integrated oral health program that includes tele-dentistry is providing better oral health and quality of life outcomes of rural aged care residents, a rural health researcher tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

Dr Anna Tynan, a research fellow with the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service in Southern Queensland and University of Queensland, led a study investigating the impact of an integrated oral health program in rural residential aged care facilities.

The program involves an oral health therapist conducting oral health checks and screens on residents, providing education to residents and staff on individualised oral health care needs and a referral to a tele-dentistry session if required.

It was developed as a local partnership between the oral health service, telehealth team and aged care service to deliver a more effective oral health service to residents.

She said the findings of the study suggest that rural aged care providers would benefit from working with oral health services.

“Having an aged care service work more closely with an oral health service may improve general outcomes for management of an oral health program within an aged care facility,” Dr Tynan told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The research also found the program improved compliance to aged care quality standards for oral health, education of staff and preventative health care for residents.

“The program provides an opportunity for informal oral health education of staff, residents and significant others by oral health professionals,” Dr Tynan said.

“It also assists in responding to disease prevention opportunities and potentially more timely intervention.”

The study, which was published in BMC Health Services Research in July, involved 252 clinical audits conducted across nine aged care facilities and compared the outcomes for residents with and without access to the program.

Residents were also surveyed to assess their oral health quality of life.

Residents in facilities with the integrated oral health program were more likely to have an oral health care plan in place (95 per cent) compared to residents without the program (86 per cent).

Toothbrushes were also more likely to be available and replaced regularly in in facilities using the program.

Residents with the integrated model also reported a slightly higher average oral health quality of life (57 per cent) in comparison to those without the model (50 per cent).

Dr Tynan said an important benefit was for residents living with dementia or poor mobility is that the program provides a way to minimise disruption to residents.

“Residents can be reviewed in the comfort of their familiar environments,” Dr Tynan said.

“This reduces disruption caused by needing to physically access an oral health facility for an oral health check-up or treatment review,” she said.

The findings of the study are available here.

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