Growing up surrounded by great grandmothers and great aunties, Clare McNally developed a great fondness of older people, which influenced her career, going on to study, research and teach the importance of oral health for elderly people.

After graduating high school, Clare began her career as a dental nurse and continued studying, completing an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene at Curtin University in Perth.

After several years working as a clinical dental hygienist, Clare pursued her passion of helping elderly people and worked as a project manager for a research project exploring the oral health of residents in nursing homes.

“That same year I enrolled in my PhD with the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research, researching the oral health of hospitalised older patients at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. It was always a goal for me to complete a PhD and I am proud to say I’ve just submitted my thesis,” Clare said.

“My PhD focuses on investigating the oral health of hospitalised older inpatients. I was fortunate to receive a joint scholarship from The Hospital Research Foundation and Adelaide Medical School for my final year of my PhD in 2017.”

Clare’s research focused on special needs dentistry and geriatric dentistry part of special needs patients, which is when a patient is unwell or living with two or more medical conditions; this can cause their oral health to suffer and when a person has bad oral health, this can negatively impact their general health.

Through her research, Clare believes she can prevent dental problems in elderly people by educating them on oral hygiene and routine maintenance. She would like patients who have a serious hospital admission to be given a comprehensive geriatric assessment, including an oral health check.

“We need more dental professionals employed in public hospitals as part of multidisciplinary teams alongside speech therapists, pharmacists and occupational therapists to educate elderly patients and help maintain their oral health. I would love to be part of the push to change this, but we need research to prove this,” Clare said.

Clare is driven to further develop and expand her PhD project to include early interventions for elderly people, which she is hoping to achieve at the University of Melbourne where she now works as a Lecturer in Oral Health.

“I hope to expand my research across the lifespan as I believe we need to target younger people and help them prepare better for older age, preventing oral health problems in the future.

“I’m so grateful for the support from THRF and their generous community of donors. Without them, I wouldn’t have been in the position to have applied for my job at the University of Melbourne.

“I’m hoping to continue working with the wonderful network I have in Adelaide to develop a multi-centred care oral assessment for elderly people to help them maintain a good standard of oral health which will positively impact their general health.”