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Open wide...Oral health therapist Melissa McLellan of Dunedin fixes an apron around the neck of Bupa Windsor Park resident Ruby Marshall while dentist Dr Haneen Alayan waits ready to examine Mrs Marshall. Mrs Marshall was one of about 50 Gore rest-home residents who received a free dental checkup and treatment if necessary at the weekend. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

A team of volunteers picked up tools at the weekend to deal with what could grow to be an oral health crisis among Gore’s more senior citizens.

Led by Gore Health dentist Haneen Alayan, the team visited Gore’s rest-homes and provided free checkups and treatment for about 50 patients.

Dr Haneen said the oral health of an increasing number of older residents was declining throughout New Zealand.

“I don’t know if crisis is the right word but it’s almost like an oral health crisis in the rest-homes and it really is a major issue.

“It is heartbreaking to see.”

It was a complicated situation with many factors contributing to the problem, she said.

One of the biggest issues was people kept their own teeth for longer.

Dentists had taken a different approach in the past 30 years to help people keep their teeth.

“Back in the day a lot of people would have had false teeth by the age of 20.

“This is not the case anymore.

“More and more patients are retaining their teeth well into old age.”

However, once people could not take care of their teeth or have regular dental checkups their oral health deteriorated rapidly.

“They get a lot of infections and decay and gum problems .. it becomes very difficult to treat this at this stage.”

Poor oral health affected overall health and wellbeing.

“Dental problems are no joke for these residents.

“They can seriously decrease quality of life.”

Another barrier was the cost of going to the dentist.

“You can’t really afford routine dentistry on the pension.”

Visiting the rest-homes had been on her to-do list for a long time, she said.

She had secured about $7000 of funding from the Mars Wrigley Foundation, the Gore Hospital and Community Health Trust, Rotary of Gore and Craigs Investment Partners.

“Dentistry is not cheap to provide.”

The equipment needed for the weekend was hired from Zaara Mobile Dental Services, of Dunedin. Dental services director Sandra Mason said the business specialised in travelling to patients who for various reason could not visit the dentist.

Resident Derek Tuck (87) said he thought it was a good idea having the mobile service visit.

“I thought it was very professional.”

He was having trouble with his new dentures.

The dentist made a small adjustment to the dentures which altered the fit, he said.