Dentistry for the elderly? Don’t hold your breath!

According to figures obtained by former health minister and Lib-Dem MP, Paul Burstow, age discrimination is rife in the NHS.

Elderly people are routinely being denied potentially life-saving treatment simply because of where they live, the figures suggest.

The questions I pose this month are: ‘Is NHS dentistry any better?’ ‘Does NHS England deny dental patients the care they need?’ The answer to both is yes, I believe.

Ten years ago, in 2003, the BDA produced a report on ‘Oral healthcare for Older People: 2020 Vision’. Last year, half way through the timescale, they reviewed progress and wrote a ‘Check-up 2012’.

It makes depressing reading. Of the 21 recommendations to improve the oral healthcare of older adults in the original report, the BDA considers that only seven of these have been met in full.

The new report concludes that despite the high policy profile of the health needs of the ageing population, ‘it remains clear that many older adults are underserved by those responsible for their health and wellbeing and many concerns remain about the future’.

Despite soothing sentiments about the importance of dentistry, it is continually side-lined by politicians and media. ‘Proper’ healthcare takes place in hospitals and there only in A&E or the operating theatre.

But the oral health of the elderly must be integrated with the rest of healthcare, yet as the BDA document points out: ‘Where government recognises that dental and oral care should be provided, it is often expressed as little more than a footnote.’

There is inequality of provision. Many older people rely on services provided through care homes, arranged by family members or carers, or they may have reduced mobility. NHS England must recognise that, although oral health care for these may be arranged through dental practices it may not be possible to provide them in practices.

Domiciliary care is more than providing full dentures for those with no teeth. More imaginative ways must be found to provide care for older people in their own homes.

Finally, we hear a lot about the 'heavy metal generation' – those often now in retirement who need a large amount of restorative work. The UDA system does not address the problems of these patients.

Added to that is the high level of patient charges for such work, at a time when many are struggling to pay for basics like heating their houses and transport. Will the new system with its clinical care pathways be any better? Don’t hold your breath.

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