LU survey finds over half elderly residents refuse dental treatment due to high cost

27 Apr 2023

Jockey Club Age-friendly City Project Ambassadors

From November 2022 to January 2023, Age-friendly City Ambassadors from Kwun Tong District organised street booths to collect views on community dental health services. A total of 230 questionnaires were collected. (Photo Credit: Hong Kong Christian Service Shun Lee Neighbourhood Elderly Centre)

A recent community survey conducted by Jockey Club Age-friendly City Project Ambassadors, with assistance of Lingnan University (LU), reveals that 76 per cent of elderly respondents report having dental diseases, while more than half (55%) have refused dental care because they found them unaffordable. To enhance the support for public dental services for grass-roots residents, the project team has drafted a submission for consideration by the Government, in the hope of enhancing general public dental services to improve the oral health of Hong Kong citizens, especially the elderly, and raise the quality of life of older adults.


In collaboration with the Hong Kong Christian Service Shun Lee Neighbourhood Elderly Centre (Kwun Tong District) and the Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association’s Ellen Li District Elderly Community Centre (North District), the Jockey Club Age-friendly City Project professional support team from LU has launched the “Jockey Club Age-friendly City Project - Small Changes in the Community, Big Improvement in Age-friendliness” project. Under this initiative, elderly residents are trained to become Project Ambassadors to understand the community’s needs, as well as formulate and implement action plans to enhance age-friendliness in the community. With the support of the elderly centres’ social workers and the LU professional support team, the Project Ambassadors carried out an evaluation survey and public education activities on dental care. A total of 534 respondents living in Kwun Tong District and North District were interviewed between November 2022 and January 2023 in street surveys, seminars and online questionnaires, over 90 per cent aged 60 or more.


The results show that over 70 per cent (76%) of elderly respondents claimed to suffer from dental disease. Their main three oral health problems were sensitive teeth (42.7%), dental erosion (31.4%) and dental caries (30.9%). About 50 per cent of respondents mentioned they neglect the illness or treat the disease through self-care (46.8%) In general, 56 per cent of the respondents cited the reasons for the neglect of dental sickness, due to unaffordable treatment cost (56.1%), lack of access to dental care (14.5%), or not being used to regular dental check-ups (14.3%). However, these problems have a negative impact on their daily life, and more than 50 per cent of the respondents (51.8%) said that their sleep has been affected by toothache over the past year. In in the North District, nearly half of the respondents (47%) said that oral problems adversely affect their self-esteem.


“Age-friendly City Project Ambassadors” strive to persuade the community to support more elderly people

Project leader Prof Joshua Mok Ka-ho, Vice-President of LU, said: “The LU project team is happy to see that Project Ambassadors and district senior volunteers have been working together to provide recommendations for the community. This submission has summarised public opinion and provided recommendations on primary dental care services, and has been issued jointly to relevant authorities and committees of the Legislative Council. Through this project, we hope to enhance dental care policies and local dental services, so as to cope with Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing population and assist policymakers in keeping pace with the changing needs of Hong Kong citizens.”


The submission has already been presented by the project team to the Government’s newly established Working Group on Oral Health and Dental Care, recommending an increase in consultation quota and expanded scope in existing dental clinics providing general public session service, offering extended service hours, driving public-private collaboration, and increasing the quota of affordable primary dental care services so as to maintain good oral health among the public. The team has advised the Government to subsidise non-profit organisations to provide affordable dental services and give elderly people a $500 annual healthcare voucher for dental treatment, adopting the money-following-the-user approach. This would increase the flexibility of dental treatment options and ease pressure on public dental services.


The report also suggests the Government broaden the scope and types of dental care subsidies for low-income seniors so as to provide appropriate assistance tailored to the needs of the elderly and the grassroots; provide greater support to strengthen oral care and dental examinations for seniors, so that the elderly can act promptly and minimise complications resulting from delayed treatment. More public education should also be provided to raise public awareness of the importance of maintaining good oral health.