Report Urges Improvements in Oral Healthcare for Older Adults in Australia

Dentistry Today


The Royal Aged Care Commissioners in Australia have included a number of key Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommendations for dramatically overhauling the delivery of oral healthcare in their final report released by the government.

It is now incumbent on the administration of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act on these vital reforms to overhaul the delivery of dental services to older Australians, the ADA said.

The government has outlined a five-year roadmap to fix the broken aged care system, the ADA said, starting with an extra $425 million and more funds to be announced during the May budget. The ADA said it doesn’t yet know how much of this funding will be spent on dental services.

The Commissioners have recommended the adoption of the ADA’s suggestion to adopt the Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule (SDBS) to help make dentistry affordable to all older Australians.

“Older people can be freed from much of this pain through the new Senior Dental Benefits Scheme that we recommend,” the Commissioners said in the report.

“The scheme will fund dental services for people who live in residential care and older people who live in the community and receive the age pension or have a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card,” the report continued.

“It will be limited to treatment required to maintain functional dentition and will be an important health prevention intervention,” the report said.

“It’s great news that the Aged Care Commissioners have recognized the validity and worth of a number of our recommendations in their final report to the government, including adopting the SDBS,” said federal ADA president Dr. Mark Hutton.

“If the government acts on this report, it will mean funding dental care for older Australians as well as some fundamental systems can finally be put into place to ensure better dental care for those in residential and home care,” Hutton said.

According to the ADA, the report highlighted how oral health remains low on the list of priorities for aged care homes.

“We heard consistently that oral and dental healthcare needs of people living in residential aged care are not treated as priorities. Daily oral healthcare is often not undertaken, and access to oral and dental health practitioners is limited,” the report said.

“Much of what we heard about the failures in oral and dental healthcare focused on lack of staff time and inadequate training, as well as a lack of access to oral and dental health professionals, but there can be no excuse for failing to brush older people’s teeth and clean their dentures daily,” the report said.

The report also recommends:

  • Including the delivery of quality oral care as one of Certificate III qualification’s core competencies, also recommended by the ADA
  • Immediate funding for better education and training to improve the quality of care delivered, with residential aged care including allied healthcare including oral health practitioners
  • An urgent review of the Aged Care Quality Standards so they include best practice oral care, with details on how they can be achieved
  • Ensuring there are sufficient numbers of workers to carry our proper daily oral care, also recommended by the ADA, though it remains to be seen if this recommendation will ensure a sufficient number of nursing staff and personal care workers

The ADA was particularly pleased with the recommendation relating to improving the Certificate III qualification, as “there’s an urgent need to improve oral healthcare knowledge and skills of the existing workforce,” Hutton said.

“The ADA has been campaigning for years to get the oral health of seniors in aged care to be put in the spotlight,” Hutton said.

“The fact is Australians are living longer, often well into their eighties, and keeping their teeth for longer too. But with a longer lifespan comes more complex oral health needs. Rates of gum disease and dental decay are highest in the over 65s, for example,” he said.

“Coupled with this are long waiting lists in the public dental system, poor value for money for private health insurance cover for dental work, and almost non-existent provision of oral care for those in aged care—a perfect storm for rotten dental health for older Australians,” he said.

“So the ADA is delighted the Commissioners have agreed with a number of our key recommendations, and we’re urging the government to implement the various schemes and processes to make these a reality. Failure to act on the report would be tantamount to the government saying it doesn’t care about older Australians,” he said.

“Ongoing assessments and access to oral health treatment would be improved for residents, which will benefit their general health and nutritional status, while aged care providers, carers, and families would have access to a range of available practitioners to provide these services,” he said.

“With coordinated thinking between agencies, providers, and dental practitioners, the dental needs of our seniors in aged care means they can be assessed before going into care and receive ongoing treatment and care whilst in aged care or on a Level 3 of 4 Home Care Packages through care by  the same dentist and through enhanced training in oral health for care workers,” Hutton said.

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