Ask the Dentist: Joined-up approach to improving over-65s' oral healthcare badly needed

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says improved oral healthcare for the over-65s is badly needed

Tooth or gum pain can have a significant impact on older people's quality of life
Lucy Stock

AT LEAST 1.8 million people in the UK aged 65 and over could have an urgent dental condition, a new report has suggested. The report, published by the Royal College of Surgeons, warns of at least 1.8 million pensioners suffering with dental pain, oral sepsis or extensive decay in untreated teeth.

It goes on to say that this number could increase by 50 per cent by 2040.

"That there could be least 1.8 million people aged 65 and over with an urgent dental problem is terrible," Professor Michael Escudier, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said.

"We are letting older people down at a time when they need the most help by not having a joined-up strategy for improving access to dental services for older people.

"Many of us know what it's like to have excruciating tooth or gum pain. For older people the effects are even worse. It can be very isolating, making people reluctant to socialise with friends and family, and will have a significant impact on their quality of life."

The Faculty of Dental Surgery is calling for a joined-up approach to improve oral healthcare for older people. It is calling for health and social care professionals to receive training in oral health so that it can be viewed as part of older people's overall health.

"As well as causing pain and making it difficult to speak, eat and take medication, poor oral health is linked to conditions in older people such as malnutrition and aspiration pneumonia," Prof Escudier said. "We need to work together to ensure improvements in oral healthcare for older people."

The BDA has responded to the report highlighting its 21 recommendations for improving oral care for older adults. These were made in 2003, yet to date only seven have been met.

"Senior citizens, whether they are resident in care homes, or living at home independently or with support, all face significant barriers to accessing quality dental care," BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said.

"The complex and diverse needs of a growing group of vulnerable patients are going unmet. We urgently require a strategy that ensures oral health for the over-65s is no longer treated as an optional extra."

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