The rotten state of oral health

The current oral health of adult Australians is amongst the worst in the OECD countries, a South Australian Parliamentary Committee inquiry into dental services for older people heard.

A South Australian Parliamentary Committee inquiry into dental services for older people has highlighted the rotten state of oral health, not only within the state but throughout the entire country.

The oral health of adult Australians is amongst the worst in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the Social Development Committee inquiry heard.

This research, submitted to the inquiry by the state’s Department of Health, drew attention to the dire need to improve dental services for older people in aged care and in the community, given the country’s rapidly ageing population.

“According to this research, one of the major contributing factors is limited access to timely and affordable dental health care,” the report stated.

“…Furthermore, people over the age of 75 had two to three times the level of gum disease and tooth decay as the general population, emphasising the particular vulnerability of this population group.”

The Department’s submission also stated that 36 per cent of Australians over 75 years had no natural teeth remaining, 55 per cent had fewer than 20 teeth remaining; 17 per cent had decayed roots still sitting in their gums and 61 per cent had moderate to severe gum disease.

Committee Chair, Ian Hunter MLC, said that although it could be easily understood how an older person living alone in their own home would let their health go, he was surprised to learn of the poor state of oral health in aged care.

“It did set off alarm bells for the committee and we wondered why oral health is such a low priority particularly in care facilities,” Mr Hunter said.

“Some facilities are very good. Many more are not, and many more only give a perfunctory nod to oral health care.”

The inquiry heard that although public dental waiting times in South Australia have decreased recently, waiting lists are still too long, averaging one and a half years for fillings and just over two years for dentures.

The Committee concluded that older South Australians have “significant unmet oral health needs” and recommended that oral health be better integrated into the development, funding and delivery of general health services, and that more dentists work in aged care facilities and in rural and remote areas.

It stressed the need to ensure that all aged care residents undergo an oral health assessment upon admission to an aged care facility and recommended that more mobile portable dental units be made available to provide restorative and preventive dental services to older South Australians.

“These problems are dire if left untreated,” Mr Hunter said. “Oral health care can be easily addressed with the appropriate resources. It can save the government a lot of money in terms of health care requirements.

“Better oral health care leads to a better quality of life for older people and less diversion [of resources] to general heath care systems.”

Tags: aged, australian, care, dental, health, oral, parliament, south,

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