Report highlights oral health of Australia's nursing home residents

The oral health of older Australians living in nursing homes is highlighted in two new reports released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Up until 20 years ago, nearly all nursing home residents had no natural teeth remaining and wore dentures. By the late 1990s, nearly half of all Adelaide nursing home residents retained some of their natural teeth.

The Adelaide Dental Study of Nursing Homes 1998 and its companion report, One-year Follow-up 1999, show an insight into the onset and progression of dental decay and other dental problems in older South Australians.

Director of the AIHW's Dental Statistics and Research Unit, John Spencer, said that oral health of nursing home residents had changed rapidly over the last two decades.

'The percentage of residents with no natural teeth who wear dentures is rapidly decreasing and we have a new group of older residents with most of their natural teeth,' Professor Spencer said.

Report co-author, Jane Chalmers, said that residents' complex problems complicated the provision of dental care. 'About 80% of residents have some form of dementia and their carers encounter difficult behavioural and communication problems when providing oral hygiene care.'

The report shows that most South Australian nursing home residents in the 1990s had large numbers of untreated decayed teeth and developed new decay on tooth crowns and roots-at a rate that was many times greater than in other older South Australians.

'Over one year, 64% of residents developed new decay on the crowns of their teeth, and about 50% developed decay on the roots of their teeth,' Dr Chalmers said. 'Residents with the highest rates of new tooth decay were those experiencing eating problems and weight loss over time.'

'New residents were also being admitted to nursing homes with already untreated dental decay and developed further problems within a few months of their admittance.'

The report highlights the need for better organisation and delivery of dental care for residents. Dental service provision for nursing home residents was low, with only 30% of dentists involved. On average these dentists spent less than 2 hours per month providing care in nursing homes over the 12-month period.

'The provision of oral hygiene care and dental treatment for these older Australians is a challenge for both carers and the dental profession,' Professor Spencer said.

'Improvements in oral health promotion activities in residential care, and more portable dental equipment for dentists to use are essential.'

5 December 2001


Further information: Professor John Spencer, DSRU, tel. 08 8303 5438
Dr Jane Chalmers, DSRU, tel. 08 8303 4048
Dr Roger Antoniazzi, President, Australian Dental Association (SA), tel. 08 8272 9087.
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, 02 6244 1032