Dental professionals need to be involved in assessing the oral health of residents when they enter aged care and all residents should have access to government-funded oral health assessments, a dental expert tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

These are among recommendations the Australian Dental Association NSW put to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to help ensure residents have adequate oral health.

ADA NSW president Dr Kathleen Matthews was due to present evidence at the aged care royal commission’s hearing on mental health, oral health and allied healthcare in late March before all hearings were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Kathleen Matthews

Primarily, residents’ oral health problems should be identified at the outset, Dr Matthews said.

“There should be a dental professional involved in assessing the state of an aged care resident as they go into a facility,” Dr Matthews told AAA.

The dental assessments should inform future care, she said.

She also called for Medicare-funded oral health assessments by a registered dental practitioner for residents.

A federally-funded scheme should provide for regular assessments and allow dental professionals to put a care plan in place, Dr Matthews said.

“The daily tooth brushing would be carried out by care workers, but the minute there was a dental issue, there would be a clear pathway that is clearly defined for a patient to access some care.”

It is also important to provide continuous training to aged care staff on how to effectively clean residents’ teeth, she said.

“We need to maintain that because it’s a workforce with a high turnover,” Dr Matthews said.

‘A problem going unrecognised’

Oral health in residential aged care is often overlooked among the plethora of other health issues residents may face, Dr Matthews said.

“It’s a problem going unrecognised and increasing vulnerability [of older Australians] and our concern as a group of professionals is that this is an area that goes unnoticed.”

Oral health practices and their quality varies between facilities, she said.

“You will have some facilities where it is well looked after… but then you have other situations where that is not even on the agenda and so patients will go without having their dentures removed for weeks, and that is a horrible situation,” Dr Matthews said.

Aged care residents need support to live their best life, she said.

“We’re not advocating for a huge thing here, we’re advocating for a small thing, a small scheme targeted at vulnerable people.”

Other recommendations

  • manadated oral care standards in the Aged Care Quality Standards
  • provide the necessary oral health services in a residential aged care facility or person’s home wherever possible
  • mandate residential aged care facilities to provide appropriate oral health care as part of the medical health plan rather than personal care plan
  • educate residential and home aged care staff to provide appropriate daily oral care for the elderly.

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1 Comment

  1. V well said Dr Matthews and ADA. Critically important initiatives to improve the health and dignity of our frail elderly – long overdue
    Dr Mark Wotherspoon- Principal , Dentist To Your Door.

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