National peak industry body the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and The Council of the Ageing have lent their support to dentists calling for an expansion of the Child Dental Benefits Scheme to include those aged 65 and over.
The calls come after the 2020 Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality recommended a senior central benefits program be implemented to allow older Australians the chance to access dental care.
In an interview with ABC News, The Council of the Ageing said it also supported the call, particularly as data from 2022 showed dental conditions alone were the second biggest cause of potentially preventable hospital admissions in Victoria.
It told the news site that older people accounted for a third of these presentations.
The 2017-18 National Survey of Adult and Oral Health found three in five older Australians had visited the dentist in the past 12 months.
However, it also found 22 percent of 1,000 people aged 75 and over avoided or delayed dental care due to cost, and 18 percent said they would have difficulty paying a $200 bill.
In a 2020 submission to the Royal Commission, the ADA noted that while Medicare looks after the general health of older adults, the mouth gets left behind.
Whilst other allied health services such as podiatry are provided via Medicare to older Australians to assist with mobility and the prevention of falls, there are no such provisions made for oral health.
According to the ADA, a quarter of the adult Australian population over 65 years has complete tooth loss.
Factors impacting complete tooth loss include low socio-economic status, holding a government health card, not having private health insurance and living outside of capital cities, it noted.
“Almost all people with complete tooth loss wear dentures to improve their function and appearance. Adequate cleaning and maintenance of dentures are required for optimal function and health of the oral tissues. Over a quarter of surveyed older adults with complete tooth loss reported difficulties in eating some foods.”
Essential Health Care
“The provision, assessment and maintenance of dentures and good oral health of those without teeth is an essential part of their overall health care requirement. However, only 50 percent of surveyed adults with complete tooth loss reported visiting a dentist in the past five years.”
In addition to increases in the proportion of older Australians projected for the future decades, the number retaining their teeth is also improving over time.
The issue was being compounded by the fact that the percentage of people over 65 years with some of their own teeth has also risen - from just over 50 percent to almost 75 percent - in the past 30 years.
The ADA noted that while this is an excellent outcome in terms of improvements in oral health, it also results in vast amounts of unmet needs concerning the care and maintenance of natural teeth in a population who are often frail and dependent on others for personal care.
Making oral health assessments a routine, Medicare-funded procedure for those Australians 75 and over would come some way towards improving the oral health and general health of this target group, the ADA said.