Substandard Dental Care Threatening Many Nursing Home Residents
Our elderly loved ones deserve to be treated with care, dignity, and respect. Unfortunately, they receive substandard care far too often.
In a recent article, the New York Times reports that, in many nursing homes across the country, nursing home residents are suffering from poor dental hygiene.
The Times calls the problem an “epidemic,” a descriptor that certainly seems apt: a 2006 study of five nursing home facilities in New York found that just sixteen percent of residents received any dental care at all.
A Wisconsin survey of more than 1,000 residents from 24 nursing homes found that thirty-one percent suffered from teeth broken in the gums. Thirty-five percent had significant “oral debris.”
Nursing homes that are subject to federal law are required to provide dental care, but many are too busy or are ill equipped to provide it.
Dr. Judith A. Jones, chairwoman of the department of general dentistry at Boston University, said of the issue, “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. Aides change someone’s Depends, change a catheter or turn somebody every few hours, but teeth often don’t get brushed twice a day.”
Today’s elderly are more likely to have their real teeth, instead of dentures, than in years prior. Dentures may be easier for nursing home workers to clean. In addition, many elderly people take medications, such as antidepressants or medications for dementia that may reduce saliva in the mouth and contribute to more rapid tooth decay. Many nursing home residents, particularly those with dementia, refuse oral care, making it difficult for aides to provide it.
Poor dental hygiene can result in swollen gums, cavities, gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, broken teeth, and other problems. All of these can be extremely painful. Even more alarming, poor dental hygiene has been linked to an increase in pneumonia, one of the leading killers of the institutionalized elderly.
If your loved one is suffering from neglect in a nursing home, don’t hesitate to report the abuse and contact an experienced Arizona elder law attorney. Arizona has helpful laws protecting the elderly from abuse or neglect. Please contact us if you have any questions.