Aim: The provision of dental services to elderly populations is a complicated area. When clients are cognitively impaired, a new set of variables are introduced as care can be influenced by designated family members, caregivers or administrators, who are responsible for the oral health care of the client and may influence the types of treatment the client will receive. Differences in attitudes and perceptions, with respect to oral health, may lead to better or worse access to care. The goals of this study are: (a) to gain a better understanding of the perceptions which may govern access and barriers to care within the institutionalised elderly population; and (b) to improve information on where and how to target educational and service resources, in order to reduce barriers to care.
Method: A convenience (non-randomised) sample of 100 residents with caregivers was selected from nursing homes without organised access to oral healthcare services. A structured interview was conducted with 40 family members. Questions explored the importance and priorities of dental services for elderly people in institutions.
Results: Services which family members deemed of highest importance were dentures (both to replace teeth and adjustments on existing dentures), pain relief, emergency dentistry, fillings, cleanings, check-ups, tooth removal and treatment for advanced gum disease. Services that family members felt were less important were complex restorations, cleaning instruction to caregivers and seniors, and services by a specialist. Services considered to be of least importance were root canal treatment and implants. The top service priorities identified by the sample of family members included: cleanings to prevent mouth disease; check-ups including X-rays; fillings; dentures to replace teeth; and dental treatment to relieve pain.
Conclusion: This study found that family members and caregivers would like a basic dental service including check-ups and preventive care, with restorative, denture and surgical intervention when required.