The Problems Of Dental Health In Nursing Homes And Why We Need To Fix It


The idea of a nursing home can be a very sore subject to address. To elderly adults, a nursing home is a symbol of a loss of independence. These seniors are removed from their homes, where they have spent the majority of their lives, and placed into a long-term care facility. Their adult children also have a difficult time contemplating the decision of having to place their parents in a nursing home. They feel that any distress or agony that their parent feels as a result of their displacement is their responsibility.


But there is one major concern facing even the top nursing homes around the country: the poor dental hygiene of nursing home residents. The children of these residents are shining a light on horror stories that have happened to their parents out of neglect for all areas of their physical health. Countless cavities, severe gum disease, cracked and broken teeth, all because the focus on oral health has been forsaken.


Instead, routine activities such as using the toilet, being fed, and being shifted in bed to avoid bed sores and other complications are taking precedence over oral health. Completing all of these tasks distracts the aides away from the seemingly lesser importance task of brushing and flossing the resident’s teeth. But while this may seem harmless to the aides, it results in very painful and dangerous consequences for the residents.


Poor oral health contributes to pneumonia, which is the leading killer of elderly nursing home residents. As a way to address this issue, a handful of states have been evaluated by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, only to find that this is a fairly common issue among all the nursing homes that were assessed. In a nursing home located in Texas, for example, one of the ASTDD inspectors came across a woman who was in such intense pain she was unable to consume any food at all. Her gums were bright red, swollen, and coated with old food particles – undeniably a sign of severe gum disease.


If dental health was made a priority in nursing homes, everything from regular brushing and flossing twice a day to routine visits from a dentist, it would decrease the amount of seniors falling ill to pneumonia. In fact, a systematic review conducted in 2008 found that one in ten cases of pneumonia-related deaths in long-term care facilities could have been prevented by better oral hygiene practice.


Chairwoman of the general dentistry department at Boston University, Judith A. Jones, says, “I always say you can measure quality in a nursing home by looking in people’s mouths, because it’s one of the last things to be taken care of.”


The most disheartening thing about this problem that has presented itself in nursing homes is that it is completely preventable. All it requires is a few minutes of an aide’s time to brush their patient’s teeth and for the nursing home to seek the professional care of an outside dentistry to conduct regular cleanings and other complicated procedures.


At Onsite Dentists Of Texas, we specialize in providing top-of-the-line care to nursing home and assisted-living residents. We come to the facility with every piece of equipment we need to service our clients – all the caregiver has to do is sign the paperwork.