19 Feb 2013

Older people's oral health surveyed

8:14 pm on 19 February 2013

A new nationwide survey of the oral health of older New Zealanders should provide vital information for the future, experts say.

The Ministry of Health has commissioned a $2.5 million survey on the topic, with results expected later in the year.

The survey has already begun and will examine the oral health status and needs of 2200 people over the age of 65, including those living in the community with support and those in the aged residential care sector.

It is the first time that people in resthomes have been included.

Dentists, aged care providers and others say the survey will provide key details that are currently unavailable about a group with complex and unmet oral health needs.

Otago University dental specialist Murray Thompson says providing better oral healthcare to older New Zealanders will help their quality of life.

Professor Thomson says older New Zealanders have more of their own teeth than people their age used to and research has indicated that rates of tooth decay climb when a person enters care.

He says oral health is an important aspect of overall healthcare.

"It's a quality of life issue. Somebody who has toothache or an oral infection and is unable to communicate is having a pretty miserable life."

The ministry says older people are keeping their own teeth longer, but regional studies in New Zealand and abroad have suggested that they are are at greater risk of developing oral health problems.