Utilizing dental hygienists to undertake dental examination and referral in residential aged care facilities.Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2011 Aug; 39(4):378-84.CD
The Australian population is ageing, and a growing proportion of elderly Australians are now living in residential aged care facilities (RACFs). These residents are commonly dependent on others for their daily oral hygiene care and often display high levels of plaque and calculus. With declining edentulism rates, periodontal disease is becoming more prevalent in this population. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of a dental hygienist to undertake a dental examination for residents of aged care facilities, devise a periodontal and preventive treatment plan and refer patients appropriately to a dentist.
A total of 510 residents from 31 Victorian RACFs were examined, with 275 dentate residents included in this study. Between May 2005 and June 2006, residents were examined by a single experienced dental epidemiologist and one of four dental hygienists using a plane mouth mirror and periodontal probe.
A total of 510 residents from 31 RACFs had a dental examination from a dentist and one of four dental hygienists. The treatment needs of residents examined were high, with nearly all of the 275 dentate residents requiring preventive and periodontal treatment, and three-quarters requiring referral to a dentist for treatment. There was excellent agreement between the dentist and hygienists regarding the decision to refer residents to a dentist for treatment, with high sensitivity (99.6%) and specificity (82.9%). Only 8.0% of residents were referred by a hygienist to a dentist when the dentist considered that no referral was required.
Dental hygienists have the skills and knowledge necessary for undertaking a dental examination for residents, correctly identifying the majority of residents who require a referral to a dentist. They are capable of formulating appropriate dental hygiene treatment plans for residents of aged care facilities. It is recommended that there should be greater utilization of hygienists in the provision of dental care to residents of aged care facilities, as a safe, efficient and effective use of health resources.