Royal Commission into Aged Care – ADA NSW Submission – Preventable Disease withSimple Oral Health Care

Late last week, an article crossed my desk from one of the dental magazines that I subscribe to. The article was in relation to poor oral health in older Australians.

I note that the Australian Dental Association NSW Branch (ADA NSW) were to make a number of recommendations to the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Safety on Thursday 16th July 2020. ADA NSW is urging the Australian Government to introduce:
1. Oral health check-ups for over 75s under Medicare
2. Access to daily denture cleaning and oral hygiene measures
3. Further dental health education for carers and aged care workers
4. Oral health assessments for every person entering a residential aged care facility
5. Campaigns to increase public awareness on the benefits or good oral health.

I am reminded of a time many years ago when I visited my grandmother who was no longer able to be looked after in her home. She had taken her dentures out and I asked her nurse where they were so that I could clean them and put them in for her. The dentures given to me were definitely not my grandmother’s dentures and I made a personal commitment from then on that whenever I made a set of dentures for a patient, that I would, without exception, engrave into them the patient’s name so that this would never happen to my patients.

Recently, I had another case where a patient was in dire need of assistance. I committed to going into the office on my day off and organised with the patient’s specialist, to have the patient transported from the hospital to my office so that I could check the patient’s implant bridge as there seemed to be some underlying health issue that was causing her no end of issues with her complicated medical history.

Upon removing the implant bridge, I found that indeed there was a rampant infection. The patient had some serious health issues which meant she had missed her regular appointment with me to do the regular maintenance under the bridge that is required, but also, because of her health issues, it meant that she was also unable to do her own daily maintenance properly, and it was overlooked by her carers.

So often, the mouth is overlooked as a source of general ill-health. Even not being able to eat properly with ill-fitting dentures has detrimental side-effects to overall general health and well-being, as chosen foods tend to be overcooked, mushy and lacking nutrients. This is all without regards even to the mental and emotional well-being of having a lovely smile.

It is also well documented now that poor oral health also increases the risk of heart disease, incidence of stroke, diabetes, some forms of cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s to name just a few.

In Australia, access to dental check-ups should be an absolute basic right. In my opinion, it beggars belief that access to oral care lags behind hairdressing and podiatry for Australia’s elderly.

Our Medicare system is already overwhelmed, but I do not believe that the submissions made to the commission are unreasonable.

Kind regards

Dr John Wells

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