ABC’s Lateline Program recently featured the appalling lack of dentistry within many of Australia’s aged-care facilities.
Who looks after the mouths and teeth of those who live in facilities for the frail and old? Hardly anyone, it seems? I can’t remember ever seeing a dentist, dental therapist or dental hygienist, in any of the homes that I regularly visit.
The dentist on Lateline, Dr Clive Rogers, said that it was not uncommon to find several abscesses in the mouths of the residents he sees. Ouch!! Ever had an abscess on a tooth?? He goes on to tell, and show, us the massive build up of food and plaque in the mouths of the frail older people he is checking. It is not a pretty sight.
He notes that the issue of dental care rarely seems to be raised by the aged-care accreditors and comments, “All the nursing homes I see should not be passing their accreditation. And from the survey I did, that seems to be the consensus around Australia”
We also know that some experts place the lack of dental care for frail older people as one of the causes of their, far too frequent, malnutrition.
Meal time is little pleasure if you have no teeth, broken teeth or gum disease. And then there are matters of poor self esteem, depression and other associated health problems that come with untreated dental problems.
Many of the current nursing home client group have full dentures as they grew up when dental care, more often than not, entailed the removal of the offending tooth or teeth – rather than repair and treatment. They need their plates cleaned and adjusted. Now an increasing number of older people have their own teeth. Thus, tooth cleaning after meals is essential in order to prevent decay - another job to be done in our understaffed aged-care facilities. My guess is that it often gets skipped.
Sometimes I wonder if teeth aren’t considered to be a part of your body by the various authorities.
Dentistry isn’t covered by Medicare and seems to be the aspect of health care that is just neglected.
Dr Clive Rogers says immediate action needs to be taken. Now what would be the chance of that happening?