The nation's peak dentistry body has called for an overhaul of aged care quality standards to address the 'dire' oral health of older Australians.
According to the the Australian Dental Association (ADA), one in three older adults have untreated tooth decay, with around one in four people over 65 living with gum disease.
With hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists for public dental services, the upcoming federal election is a "golden opportunity" to make dentistry more affordable, said ADA president Mark Hutton.
"This situation is only going to get worse and worse – it’s expected that by 2056, one in four Australians will be over the age of 65, and 1.8 million people will be over 85," he said.
"Increasing numbers of older people are retaining their natural teeth, resulting in high demand for ongoing dental care by the elderly, many who have complex and chronic medical conditions."
The ADA is calling to give elderly Australians a capped entitlement to subsidised oral health services, a recommendation the royal commission says should happen no later than 2023.
Last month's federal budget put aside no direct funding towards establishing the seniors dental benefits scheme.
Federal Labor has also not indicated whether it would revive its 2019 pledge to fund a pensioner dental plan, which promised access to $1,000 worth of dental work for seniors every two years.
This week, the Greens unveiled a $77.6 billion pledge to expand Medicare to allow bulk-billing at dentists.
Hutton said while the ADA welcomed the "aspirational" promise, the policy would be a "challenge for any government to implement".
“What’s important and financially more palatable for either election-winning party, as a first step, is to address the oral health travesties within the aged care system," he says.
Dentures 'left for weeks', uncleaned teeth, broken teeth, gum lacerations, and advanced gum disease are the most typical dental issues seen in aged care homes, says the ADA.
Studies have shown that poor oral healthcare can be linked to heart disease, cancers and diabetes.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that between 2013-2014, poor oral health was behind more than 8000 preventable hospital admissions for elderly people.
COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said a targeted scheme to fund dental health was "long overdue".
“We continue to look to the government for its response to the royal commission’s recommendation for a seniors dental program.
"Funding oral health is critical to maintaining quality of life in aged care and in the community."Do you have an idea for a story?
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