Govt urged to offer free dental check-ups for elderly

A grassroots organisation on Sunday urged the authorities to provide free dental check-ups for senior citizens, saying many underprivileged elderly couldn’t afford to see a dentist even though they suffered serious toothaches.

The Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) said at a press conference that it polled 230 elderly people living in poverty between May and July, and found that half of them suffered sleep disorders as a result of dental problems.

But SOCO’s community organiser, Ivan Lin, said more than 70 percent of them would just ignore the pain or use home remedies, like chew on ice or apply herbs on the affected area, mainly because they could not afford to seek professional help.

“It’s cheaper to see a dentist on the mainland. I used to go to a clinic in Shenzhen and have never been to a dentist here,” said Hui, an elderly woman who also attended the press conference.

Lin said expensive oral health care in Hong Kong, coupled with less-than-ideal cleaning habits, meant only half of the interviewees still had 20 or more real teeth left.

He added that although those living on government welfare may apply for subsidies to get dentures, many find the policy inadequate.

A 72-year-old lady called Shuk-king told the press conference that she wanted to get dentures via the means-tested Community Care Fund (CCF), but was told by a clinic that their dentures did not suit her.

She said she went to another dentist in the end and had to pay by herself.

Another 68-year-old woman, Leung, complained that her denture – which was paid for by the government – didn’t fit, and current rules stipulate that she couldn’t get a replacement until she is 75.

Lin said prevention is better than cure, and urged the government to subsidise all elderly to get annual dental checks.

“Now the limit for CCF denture subsidy is HK$26,000. If we put that money to primary oral health, that would be equal to a lifetime’s oral checks. We should put that money into preventive measures, rather than very expensive curative measures,” he said.

He added that the authorities could also provide free check-ups for the elderly in community health centres that will be set-up in all 18 districts across the city.