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Urgent action is needed on older people's dental care in Northern Ireland

3 April 2019

BDA Northern Ireland has written to Andrew Dawson, Acting Head of Workforce, at the Department of Health to demand urgent action to deal with the growing issue of meeting the challenges of an ageing population, and that the resourcing of both the community dental service (CDS) and the general dental service (GDS) are considered. 

We have previously alerted Health and Social Care Board members of the pressing need to plug the gaps in provision of dental care for older people, and particularly for those living in care homes. 

The HSCB's Head of Dental Services, Michael Donaldson, recently gave a presentation on these issues to HSCB board members, highlighting that the majority of care is currently being provided through smaller Trust-based CDS provision, and that CDS clinical directors have stated that they are currently unable to provide a comprehensive oral healthcare service for care home residents.  

CDS dentists make up approximately only 7% of all dentists in Northern Ireland. There is evidence to suggest the CDS is struggling to provide a comprehensive screening and treatment service for elderly care home residents, due to competing demands.

Our population is ageing and given the predicted demographic and oral health changes over the next 10 years, we believe significant investment is now required in both the CDS and the GDS if we are to adequately meet future needs for both older people, and special care patients.

We are calling for a demand-capacity analysis of the CDS, and a strategy to be put in place to deal with this changing demographic. The Department needs to take seriously the fact that 40% of the CDS workforce in Northern Ireland is due to retire by 2025. 

Grainne Quinn, Chair of the BDA's Northern Ireland Salaried Dentists Committee said:


"The oral health inequalities facing older people is a fast-growing issue. Many of those in care homes are suffering from poor oral health, either through a lack of good oral hygiene routines, or problems not being flagged early on. And this number is only going to continue to rise. 

"Our CDS is doing its best under difficult circumstances, but the lack of resourcing and the growing needs of this population is now at tipping point. If we do not put in place a plan now, we face failing on the provision of care for our older people, which is a significant equalities issue, as well as a human rights one.

"We call on the Department to think carefully about the future for these patients and to begin work on strategy, backed by resources and staffing, so we can ensure our older people are being properly cared for."

We believe a new oral health strategy is urgently needed, one that takes a multidisciplinary approach to oral health for older people. We have long been calling for a new overarching oral health strategy for Northern Ireland, and we hope that a coherent plan for older people and special care patients is developed as a key part of that.


BDA Northern Ireland

BDA Northern Ireland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Northern Ireland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts. Join us.