Dental Care For The Elderly

Posted by: Charlie Burrows

We all know that the care system has had a poor reputation in the UK for many years and although the majority of these issues stem from lack of funding and support, in some cases it’s about lack of knowledge. In general there are procedures to follow and regulations to adhere to but with the elderly, alongside many possible health issues, there is one element which is often neglected; dental care.

So are elderly people at risk of poor dental health? Unfortunately, it looks like that may be the case, following a CQC report (Care Quality Commission) which revealed that they found half of all care home staff have not received required training for maintaining good dental care for residents. According to the report, 39 percent of care home managers didn’t know the NICE guideline on dental care and only 28 percent had read the guidelines at all.

As part of the report it was also discovered that the overall problems we have identified before regarding access to dentists seem to be affecting the elderly too. Local restrictions including dentists not accepting new patients and appointment blocks and lack of availability are all complicated issues plaguing the system right now and it’s widespread, to the point of impacting care homes.


Why are Care Home Staff Struggling?

According to the report there was a lack of dentists able to visit the care homes to provide check-ups, with 10% of homes claiming they had no way to access emergency treatment for people with dental problems. Amongst many of the claims from care homes following the report, they also state that they end up calling GPs and the emergency NHS number to help because there simply isn’t another option.

The big reveal was that personal opinion from many care homes seemed to be that most care staff found it “unpleasant” to perform oral care procedures and most hadn’t received the required training.

The question is, should they be expected to provide a high level of oral care to residents or does this fall under the responsibility of dentists? With the current crisis in local access and availability with dentist treatments on the NHS, this is unlikely to change and care staff may have to bear the brunt of the responsibility.


Long Term Effects

The long term effects of residents not receiving oral care and regular check-ups will result in future problems simply because of the lack of dental maintenance. As we get older, our teeth, as with many other things can deteriorate and this can impact health even more so when we are older. Oral hygiene is important throughout our whole life, however, poor oral care will lead to other problems, including heart complications and lung issues due to bacteria build-up. In the elderly this is more prominent and a major cause for concern.

With this in mind there should be an urgency to resolve this issue across the UK and the CQC report findings should be a red flag that we need to not only take care of our patients but that the care staff should be trained and confident in providing the right level of care moving forward.


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