SENIORS are being urged to back a plan to give aged care recipients better access to dental care, following Royal Commission recommendations for an overhaul to the way oral health care for older Australians is funded.
The country's peak dental body, the Australian Dental Association, said a complete revamp of the way dentistry for older Australians is funded is long overdue and critical to "turning the tide" on poor oral health.
The call comes after the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard Counsel Assisting propose 124 recommendations to overhaul 18 aspects of the aged care system, including a seniors dental benefits scheme.
With poor oral health for older Australians costing Australia $750m a year and more seniors suffering oral health issues, Counsel Assisting's proposals on improving dental care for aged care recipients have been welcomed by the ADA.
The scheme, designed to make dentistry affordable to many older Australians, was outlined in two submission by the ADA to the royal commission in 2019 and earlier this year.
In a statement the ADA said the oral health of millions of older Australians now hangs in the balance with the commission is due to make its final recommendations in February 2021.
"Last week counsel assisting the RCAC acknowledged our scheme and formally recommended to the commissioners that such a model is the most realistic option for funding dentistry for older Australians," said ADA president, Dr Carmelo Bonanno.
"Now we're hoping that with the nation's seniors understanding what we propose and getting behind the plan, the RCAC will recommend it to government when they submit their final report in February.
"Creating such a scheme is critical to building better oral health among older Australians before and after they enter residential care according, to the ADA.
"If we're to turn the tide on poor oral health, particularly in residential aged care, counsel assisting the RCAC's proposal to introduce the scheme must be given serious consideration by commissioners.
"Without the funding mechanism to ensure that older Australians can access screening and treatment through both public and private dental practitioners, the oral health of our most vulnerable population will continue to be neglected.
"It's particularly important for those older Australians receiving home care or going into aged care facilities that their oral health issues are assessed and treated and that they receive ongoing care to ensure they can continue to eat, speak, socialise and be free from pain."
He called on the country's seniors to back the idea. "We also want to see the nation's seniors backing the plan - write to your MP, post it on your social media, talk to family, friends, colleagues and your dentist about it. A groundswell of support from those most affected will speak volumes about it being long overdue."
Dr Bonanno said dentists have already embraced similar schemes as demonstrated by the uptake of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule and the longstanding provision of veteran's services through the DVA dental scheme.
According to the National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017-18, 23 per cent of people aged 55-74 and nearly 10 per cent of those 75 and over said dental costs had prevented recommended treatment.
The study by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health found a quarter or people aged 55-74 and almost one in five people 75 and over said they would have a lot of difficulty paying a $200 dental bill.
Meanwhile 28 per cent of 55-74 year-olds and 26 per cent of 75 and over avoided foods due to dental problems.