This week’s New York Times Science section, (8/4/2013), has a front page article entitled “Nursing Homes Neglect Teeth” The article reviews the often poor level of dental care at nursing homes as well as the dental and general health consequences of this neglect. Unfortunately, there are few suggestions to help the situation. Two thirds of the patients in nursing homes suffer from dementia and are often uncooperative or hostile to attempts at oral hygiene.
If you are responsible for someone who may be in a nursing home there are some steps you can take. If it is an option, it is easier to treat the person before they enter the facility. Very often, the best course is to remove teeth that are decayed or have periodontal (gum) disease and that cannot be readily restored. While this is often a difficult decision for family members as it may leave the patient’s appearance compromised, it is often the better option. It is important to remember that the patients’ needs come first and they are unaware of their appearance but still experience pain and the risk of infection. What can be a simple procedure as an outpatient can become a complicated and life threatening one in an extended-care facility. Prescription mouthwash and electric toothbrushes and irrigation can also help if they can be supervised properly.
As our population ages and keeps their teeth longer, this is becoming a growing issue. It is important to maintain dental health through regular check-ups throughout life. The healthier the mouth at any age, the fewer the problems.