Page last updated at 00:30 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Elderly 'suffer' over dental care

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Dental equipment
Access to NHS dentistry is a long-running problem

Elderly people are suffering because of poor access to dentistry services, experts say.

Improvements in dental care following the creation of the NHS mean that many pensioners have kept their own teeth.

But Help the Aged said this was now causing a problem as elderly people in care homes or who were housebound were struggling to see a dentist.

The government said it recognised the importance of providing dental services for everyone.

More than a third of over 75s fail to have regular check ups - the highest for any age group, according to Help the Aged.

We recognise how important it is to have accessible NHS dentistry services for everyone
Department of Health spokesman

Experts said one of the key problems was a lack of mobile dental units to tour the community.

Charlotte Potter, a senior health policy officer at Help the Aged, said: "It is a particularly acute problem for people in care homes. Services are just not flexible enough and it means that elderly people often go without treatment.

"And now more and more are keeping their own teeth into old age it is becoming a major problem.

"Teeth decay and pain can affect your eating habits and nutrition. It is something the NHS and those caring for old people need to be aware of."

Nigel Carter, chief executive of British Dental Health Foundation, agreed it was becoming worrying.

"We are hearing of more and more reports of this. The problem is that when people get older they stop producing so much saliva and that means the decay process is quicker."

Access

The concerns come as access to NHS dentistry has shot to the top of the agenda.

A new contract was introduced in 2006 in England, but it has done little to increase the number of NHS dentists.

A recent poll by Citizen's Advice showed one in six had not seen a dentist in the last two years.

And research by Bristol University showed that the continuing problems with access had led to the number of hospital admissions for abscesses nearly doubling in eight years to just under 1,500 a year.

A Department of Health spokesman said guidance had already been issued to NHS managers about the importance of providing dental services for the elderly.

"We recognise how important it is to have accessible NHS dentistry services for everyone."



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