Oral health programme for Welsh elderly has its funding doubled
CARDIFF, UK: Thanks to improved healthcare and living conditions, and a range of other factors, life expectancy in the UK has been increasing steadily in recent decades. Maintaining one’s oral health into old age has thus become of greater importance. It comes as welcome news, then, that the Welsh government has announced that it will double the annual funding for an oral healthcare programme specifically for older people living in nursing and residential homes.
Gwên am Byth (A Lasting Smile) is a programme initiated by the Welsh government in 2015 with the aim of “[improving] oral hygiene and mouth care for older people living in care homes through the development of a consistent all-Wales approach”. By 31 March 2019, it had targeted 52.3% of care homes across Wales. By doubling the funding for Gwên am Byth to £500,000, the Welsh government is aiming to offer this programme throughout all care homes in Wales from 2020/21 onwards.
Owing to decreased mobility, long-term health conditions and myriad other factors, many older people in the UK suffer from poor oral health. A 2019 report from the Care Quality Commission found the dental services provided for care home residents in England to be insufficient. Among its findings were that 47% of these homes failed to train their staff to support their residents’ daily oral healthcare and that 10% had no means of accessing emergency dental treatment.
“A Lasting Smile is an excellent initiative that has already had a good level of success and is something the other UK countries should be looking to emulate,” Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, told Dental Tribune International.
“The extra investment that the Welsh government is putting into these services should deliver even better results and further reduce the oral health inequalities that exist in care homes in Wales,” he added.
In a press release announcing the funding boost, Vaughan Gething, Welsh minister for health and social services, noted: “Looking after our teeth is something that remains a priority throughout our life. Good oral health can help people’s health and well-being.”
“The further funding announced today will ensure older people from across Wales will now benefit. As a dementia-friendly nation, I’m pleased to hear that the scheme is really delivering for some of the most vulnerable in our society,” Gething continued.
The British Dental Association (BDA), while expressing its happiness at the funding increase, cautioned that there was still work to be done to address oral health inequalities for older people in the UK.
“We have long been asking for better provision for our more vulnerable adult patients, so it’s great to see increased investment in this programme to support the needs of older people living in care homes,” said Dr Caroline Seddon, BDA Wales national director.
“But more still needs to be done. We’ve been saying for some time that our older generation are a ticking time bomb, with heavily restored mouths that will need attention as they age. We need a dental contract that truly concentrates on patients’ needs, and a move away from a targeted-based system, to ensure we can deliver on real prevention for future generations,” she continued.