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News / November 3, 2014

Elderly need better dental care in Ireland

by Guy Hiscott

Ireland needs more accessible dental services for the elderly, says Dr Grace Kelly, specialist in special care dentistry.

Speaking at the Irish Dental Hygienists Association (IDHA) Annual Winter Conference last weekend, Dr Kelly argued that domiciliary dental care for the elderly is ‘an area that needs good regulation’ as services in Ireland are currently limited.

Dr Kelly believes dental hygienists play an integral role in oral health for the elderly, especially in the nursing home.

She said: ‘We need to start thinking laterally – thinking about neck mobility, chair posture, toothbrush grip, wheelchair access, mobility impairment, communication problems.

‘This is real struggle for older people, and there is limited service from the HSE to help with all this.’

One of the last reports that looked into dental healthcare for the elderly in Ireland in 2007 found that only 29% of those aged 65 and above attended the dentist (the Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition in Ireland [SLÁN]).

‘The quality of life for elderly people because of bad oral health is incredibly poor,’ Dr Kelly said. ‘Some have a poor self-image because of dentures and won’t leave the house. Some can’t get drive or get taxis and struggle with dental anxiety and communication problems, but they fiercely independent. How can they then go to the dentist?

‘If people receive advanced implants when they are adults, these implants are going to fail when they get older because there is currently no system in place to support them.’

Dr Kelly’s argument was emphasised even further when a dental professional and member of the audience at the IDHA Annual Winter Conference asked: ‘Does domiciliary dental care exist in Ireland?’