With its sights firmly set on uncovering hidden sugars in Australian diets and shopping trolleys, this year’s Dental Health Week campaign may very well be the wake-up call we need to tackle some pervasive issues within the nation’s oral health habits.
In the second part of our series focusing on the state of Australia’s oral health (for more go to Australia’s Oral Health Tracker), which was first published in the August 2020 issue of the ADA’s News Bulletin, we talk to Associate Professor Janet Wallace who is an oral-health therapist, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, and the founder of the Senior Smiles program.
A/Prof. Wallace reports that dental health is still very much a luxury for those who are from at-risk groups, including our frail and elderly and particularly those living in residential aged care facilities.
“Access to timely and accessible dental services for this group, is still largely unmet with residents often only receiving treatment when they are experiencing pain, infection and swelling,” she says.
“Socio-economic challenges, access, rural and remote areas, Aboriginal oral health, special needs patients, drugs, alcohol and mental health issues and of course being elderly and frail; are all roadblocks – if finances are tight then oral health care becomes a luxury.
“Oral health is still very much a separate entity with general health and dental health rarely being managed holistically. As an educator, I would like to see all undergraduate medical and allied health degrees with an oral health curriculum, this would improve the understanding of the importance of oral health and general health and the need to provide holistic care.”
COVID-19 has had a major impact on dental health. A/Prof. Wallace reports that Senior Smiles practitioners were withdrawn from all facilities for several months. This means that all projected targets are going to be under-met due to COVID19 and our older Australians are of course affected.
“I would like to see a national oral health education program much like the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ program that really puts preventive oral health care out into the community, something that is attention grabbing and continuous to help the public realise that oral health is part of general health and should be managed as such,” she says.
Asked about Dental Health Week, she responds that it means she and her team can involve their students at the University of Newcastle, Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy program to bring attention to it. “We use the ADA materials and feel this contributes to getting out a consistent message, teamwork and collaboration; the two strongest links to success.”
With tracking trends vital to improving overall dental health in Australia, A/Prof. Wallace is addicted to publications and data. “[There are] too many to name and I don’t want to leave anyone out, but the Australian Dental Association and Australian Health Policy Collaboration Tracker Technical Paper is really helpful!”