World Oral Health Day 20 March 2021

This World Oral Health Day the Victorian Oral Health Alliance (VOHA) is shining a light on the issue of oral health for people living in residential aged care and calling on the Federal government establish a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme as a matter of urgency.

With more than 220,000 Australians living in residential aged care, and many more in various in-home care arrangements, it is important to prioritise oral health and access to care. For too long, these residents have had their most basic oral care needs neglected. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety highlighted countless stories of residents who suffered from pain and discomfort, poor nutrition and an inability to access dental care. This is supported by decades of research that has demonstrated poor oral health.

“One of the biggest challenges currently facing the dental profession in Australia is the provision of quality and timely dental care to older Australians, thanks in part to improvements in oral health over the past 60 years that have seen more people retaining their own teeth,” said A/Prof Matt Hopcraft, CEO of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch. “With an increased risk of disease, and links between poor oral health and general health, the challenge is for public health policy makers to engage with the dental profession to ensure a system that enables older Australians to access timely dental care.”

A key recommendations of the Royal Commission is the establishment of a Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule, to fund dental treatment for people living in residential aged care or who live in the community and receive the aged pension or qualify for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. This would ensure that residents and seniors in the community would be able to access dental care in either the public or private dental system, and would encourage outreach models of care to ensure that people who may not be able to travel can have care provided in their home or place of residence.

“One of the benefits of bringing dentistry into Medicare is that senior Australians would no longer need to languish on public dental waiting lists – which are 17 months on average but over 2 years in many parts of Victoria,” said A/Prof Hopcraft. “This would also allow people the choice of continuing to see their regular dental care provider, which is important for quality health care.”

It’s time to prioritise oral health, and stop the neglect. 

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