Jan 11, 2024

In-house dental clinic put the priority on oral health for residents

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Oral Health Therapist Mackenzie Kagoro giving resident Colleen Sandford a check-up at the in-house clinic. [Source: Supplied]

If you talk to any dentist, you’ll find out that maintaining good oral health is vital as we age, as our risk of developing certain oral health conditions increases and diseases like dementia could impact one’s ability to look after their mouth independently.

For those living in aged care, maintaining appointments outside of the facility can be difficult if they become sick or unable to get there – this was particularly common during the COVID-19 pandemic when several restrictions were in place. That’s why this facility decided to switch it up and bring the dentist to the residents!

Southern Cross Care Western Australia’s Victoria Park Nursing Home and Hostel in Kalgoorlie has been running a successful in-house dental clinic for its residents and time-poor staff since 2018.

Cheryl Hahn, the facility’s ​​​​Care Services Manager played a big part in making the clinic come to life, lobbying a local dentist and politician for funds to build it. After a few challenges posed by COVID-19 lockdowns, the clinic is back up and running – providing multiple benefits to all.

“Having a clinic here means that our residents, especially those with dementia who cannot go out to any appointments for many reasons, can go to the clinic here and have the same recognisable staff with them and have all the treatment that they require. We can hoist residents on and off the chair here whereas in a major dental clinic, they do not have this equipment.”  

Common oral health conditions that may affect older people more include:

  • Dry Mouth from certain medications, diseases or medical treatments such as radiation for cancer
  • Attrition or the general ‘wear and tear’ of your teeth where the protective layer of enamel covering the surface of the teeth starts to wear down
  • Oral diseases such as mouth cancer or oral thrush
  • Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease
  • Root decay
  • Sensitive teeth

But these conditions can also develop for someone at any age if oral health is neglected. With this in mind, staff who must juggle their health with full-time work can arrange to have treatment at this in-house clinic to help them stay on top of dental appointments. 

So how does it operate? 

The clinic utilises a local dentist from the community and admin workers from the facility and the dentist’s practice coordinates and organises the dentist to be onsite to facilitate appointments with those who need them. Clients are billed just like going to an independent dentist in the community.

Ms Hahn is passionate about older people’s dental health, particularly those in aged care as these clients often have to wait long periods for an appointment (unless it is an emergency), which often causes these vulnerable people to miss out. 

She said, “If we can improve the dental hygiene of the elderly, then it improves their health and well-being and gives them a much better lifestyle.”

The importance of oral health is becoming a bigger priority for healthcare workers, particularly those working in aged care which has historically suffered from knowledge gaps.

To address this, an app-based protocol for workers was established by health researchers in October to improve the oral health and well-being of residential aged care residents and address these knowledge gaps.

Has your workplace considered bringing more specific health services into the facility? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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