Food focus at Dignity in Care

An innovative approach to providing dental services to older Australians including aged care residents has been launched in south-west Sydney by leading aged care provider HammondCare.

A new dental clinic, which began seeing its first patients this week, is located in the purpose-built HammondCare Centre for Positive Ageing which is embedded in HammondCare’s extensive dementia, aged care and independent living campus in Hammondville.

It is co-located with a new GP clinic - opened about 12 months ago - as well as other specialist restorative health and positive ageing services - ensuring comprehensive primary health care services are easily accessible for aged care and independent living residents.

As an additional measure, in partnership with University of Sydney, a placement program for oral health and oral hygiene students began in April 2013. Not only does the program give the students much-needed aged care experience, but it means they can provide oral health care for resident as well as sharing their skills with care workers.

Solving dental care dilemma 

HammondCare’s Chief Medical Officer, Associate Professor Andrew Cole, said older Australians were often worse off when it came to receiving good dental care.

“Compared to other health issues, the dental needs of older people seem to have been overlooked,” A/Prof Cole said. “Older Australians commonly experience chronic eye, ear and mouth problems that significantly reduce their quality of life. And while it is relatively easy to become aware of sight and hearing issues, it is not always the case with oral health.

“Many older people have suffered from years of poor oral hygiene and nutrition, not being aware of the importance of regular oral and dental care. This has resulted in chronic mouth infections and damaged and missing teeth. Too often this is dismissed as just a natural part of ageing when in fact there is much that can be done.

“Likewise, while there is Commonwealth funding support for sight and hearing needs, there is minimal funding available to provide oral health and dental care to older people who cannot afford to maintain private health insurance.

“Added to this, many aged care residents also live with dementia, and so find it difficult to explain what is wrong with them or to care for their teeth.”

First patients say service is 'fantastic'

The dental clinic's first patient was Nellie* who is partially paralysed and lives in nearby independent living accommodation.

"We’re off to see the dentist - we are the first customers,’ said Nellie. “I can just drive up in my wheelchair – it’s fantastic! And they’re all so nice too.”

She is able to arrange GP appointments if need be to coincide with dental appointments.

Pain alleviation important

Dentist George El-Roueihib said that in the lead up to seeing his first patients this week, he had spent time learning about the specific needs of the people he expects to see.

"Many of the patients will have multiple chronic condition, including dementia, and may not be able to describe accurately the pain that they are experiencing.

“It’s great to be part of the process of pain management and alleviation, especially for people in need. It’s more significant than any private practice work that I do – because access to dental services for this often high-needs group is otherwise so difficult," Mr El-Roueihib said.

"HammondCare solves this problem for them by providing an easy access, on-site service.”

* Name and details changed to protect privacy