ACU oral health research aims to bring smiles to families in residential aged care

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A new app-based protocol being developed by Australian Catholic University (ACU) researchers aims to help improve the oral health and well-being of residential aged care residents.

The initiative is supported by a $210,000 grant from Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA). The joint pilot project with Amelo Dental will see ACU researchers work with residents and staff at five Southern Cross Care QLD (SCCQ) aged care services to review the new protocol, with a view to commencing a national roll-out in 2024.

“A lack of good oral health affects a person’s general quality of life, where the ability to eat, speak and socialise is compromised, resulting in pain, discomfort, and embarrassment,” lead researcher Dr Kieran Flanagan told The Bursar.

The speech pathologist and aged care researcher at ACU Brisbane says poor oral health is a serious medical issue that contributes to “potentially preventable hospitalisations and deaths from pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia, and infective endocarditis”.

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Overcoming oral health barriers

Amelo is an oral health app designed by dentists that helps to efficiently assess risk, and provide personalised preventive care guidance and advice, as well as product recommendations (types of toothpaste, mouthwash, and dryness relief products) and has the functionality to assist in the ordering of these products from a range of suppliers.

Currently, Dr Flanagan says, key barriers to quality oral health care include staff training, access to appropriate oral hygiene products, and cost and says the project aims to address significant gaps in the aged care workforce’s knowledge and capability.

“Most certificate III courses for aged care workers don’t include oral health training, so the purpose is to trial an app-based oral health protocol to help educate aged care staff and provide the right oral products for residents in aged care,” he says.

“Oral care in residential aged care can be challenging and can have a really big impact on overall health and wellbeing. By improving access and knowledge about oral health care in aged care, we can dramatically reduce these risks of poor health.”

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The new protocol’s impact on health and well-being, as well as staff confidence in oral health management, will be compared to standard practices by measuring changes in oral health behaviours, social interaction, and diet – both before and after its introduction.

Better oral health boosts overall well-being

The app is designed by dentists and oral health care experts to deliver the right information, but it’s also, says Dr Flanagan, designed to be used by family members who can help identify their loved ones’ oral health care needs.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide a protocol for better oral health care that leads to better health and quality of life, and for this protocol to be used broadly across the nation in residential health and that’s something we can all smile about,” he says.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]