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The Dangers of Poor Oral Hygiene in a Nursing Home

Published on Oct 31, 2019 at 3:12 pm in Nursing Home Abuse.

Dentist chair

When you trust the care of your loved one to a nursing home, you expect only the best care to be provided. Some long-term care facilities provide just that, but sadly, not all of them supply optimal care for all of their residents. In fact, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that 95% of nursing home residents they interviewed had experienced neglect or witnessed another resident be neglected.

When residents aren’t being neglected, staff is typically more focused on other health problems that might seem more pressing than dental hygiene. Even if patients have dental insurance or complain of pain, many staff members at nursing homes are not prepared to address dental health problems. But in the elderly, poor dental health can cause a quick decline in overall health.

Oral Hygiene Is Tied to Overall Health

Medications can affect oral health, making the lack of dental hygiene in nursing homes have even worse effects for the patients. Elderly people take prescriptions for conditions like high blood pressure, seizure disorders, and depression, and they can cause dry mouth because they reduce saliva production. Saliva is important because it maintains the health of soft tissues in the mouth, cleans food particles out of teeth, and fights disease and infection, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

A decline in dental hygiene could easily compromise a patient’s health. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that poor oral health increases risk for the four leading noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which are heart diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes in all populations, not just the elderly. Considering older people usually have compromised immune systems, any of those diseases can quickly turn deadly.

How Oral Health Can Decline in a Nursing Home

Seniors in nursing homes are left unmonitored more often than they’re supposed to be, so ensuring that the residents have proper dental hygiene doesn’t always seem to be a high priority on the care list. All patients are required to have their basic needs met, according to the standards outlined by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987. This includes assistance for patients who cannot go to the bathroom, get a bath, or brush their teeth by themselves. But not even those needs are always met.

Of course, not all nursing home staff neglects their patients. Still, the staff members who are trying to care for their residents can face difficulties. Not only is it hard to make sure every single patient brushes their teeth once daily, let alone twice, staff members also have to care for patients who vehemently resist dental care, like residents with dementia.

Previously, many older Americans had dentures, which were easier for staff to care for. But now, many people are retaining their real teeth into old age. Although most staff is highly trained, the ADA claims nursing home staff is not usually familiar with oral health conditions or daily oral care strategies like a dentist or dental team would be. This leads to gum disease, cavities, and worse diseases.

Assessments of Oral Health

Unfortunately, oral health is not assessed that often in nursing homes, but the Association of State & Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) created a survey for older adults about their oral health and how to implement a plan of action to correct it. More assessment is the first step in making a change for elders with poor dental health.

The good news is that The Journal of Dental Hygiene (JDH) reports that 29 states allow dental hygienists to provide care for patients, making it easier for nursing home residents to get dental care because they don’t specifically need to see a dentist. The downside to that, though, is that they still have to bring a hygienist into the nursing home or bring the patient to their office.

Since nursing home abuse and neglect is so common, the residents don’t even see dental hygienists as often as they should or could. If you see that your loved one is not receiving the care that they need from their long term care facility, then you could have a nursing home abuse case on your hands. In Lexington, Golden Law Office has your back. We can help you file a claim against a nursing home who is neglecting or mistreating your loved one. Contact us so we can discuss your legal options today.

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