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Dental care brings a smile to residents

Elderly residents will be flashing their pearly whites in what has been described as a West Australian ‘first' dental health trial, taking place at MercyCare's Wembley residential aged care facility.
MercyCare resident, Ronald Willmott (left), with KDT senior dental officer and director, Dr Jilen Patel.
MercyCare resident, Ronald Willmott (left), with KDT senior dental officer and director, Dr Jilen Patel.

MercyCare is partnering with the Kimberley Dental Team (KDT), who is delivering the trial, which aims to bridge a gap in dental care provided to elderly people in residential aged care.

As part of the trial, which is now underway, KDT volunteers will initially identify a group of 20 MercyCare residents for dental assessment.

The KDT will make it easy for the residents to get the dental care they require by bringing mobile dental services directly to the MercyCare facility and visiting the residents in the comfort of their rooms, structuring a tailored management and preventive oral health plan for each resident as required. 

Several recent Australian studies have shown significant disparities in the oral health of older people living in residential aged care facilities, which is particularly concerning given dental disease is on the increase in Australia’s growing ageing population.

Oral diseases commonly affect frail and dependent older adults living in our community and these often become exacerbated following admission into residential aged care. These diseases can significantly impact on elderly people’s eating ability, diet, weight, speech, hydration, behaviour, appearance and social interactions.

“Through our patient centred model of care, which focuses on prevention and education and by using flexible and adaptable methods of service delivery, we hope to provide much needed services for the elderly and in so doing, improve the quality of life of aged care residents,” says Dr Jilen Patel, KDT senior dental officer and director.

The KDT is a not for profit organisation of volunteer dental and allied health professionals committed to providing high quality dental treatment and education to people who are disadvantaged by barriers such as decreased access to care, remoteness, cost and social adversity.

MercyCare executive director of aged care services, Carlo Calogero, says the trial is an exciting development and large step forward to improving aged care practise.

“The KDT approached us late last year because they’d identified there is a real deficit in providing dental care in residential aged care for elderly people throughout Australia,” Mr Calogero says.

“For older people who are frail or have low mobility, getting to regular dental appointments can be difficult, and likewise it can be hard to arrange for dentists to visit aged care facilities. As a result, dental care can deteriorate,” he says.

“The KDT’s trial at MercyCare will be the first of its kind in Western Australia, aiming to investigate how providing dental care can help to broadly improve the lives of elderly people in Australia.”

MercyCare chief executive, Chris Hall, says the KDT’s mission closely aligned with MercyCare’s own mission to break cycles of significant disadvantage.

“We are delighted to be taking part in the KDT trial because dental health care can sometimes fall by the wayside for elderly people for a number of reasons – so the benefits of a regular treatment and care plan could have wide-reaching impacts on the general wellbeing of our residents,” he says.

“This is an initiative which may have a significant impact on the wider residential aged care sector across Australia. We will be supporting and watching the trial with interest.”

MercyCare is a Catholic provider of aged care, family, health and community services

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