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Dental Care is Essential to Health, But Many Nursing Homes Fail to Provide It

Oral care is critical to maintaining resident health.

In recent decades, the importance of maintaining our oral health has been linked to a significant rise in the quality and length of life of the average American. Whether we are physically or mentally able keep up dental care on our own as we age can have a huge impact. When residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities cannot maintain their oral health themselves, it is the facilities’ responsibility to help provide that care. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

The lack of regular dental care in nursing facilities is not only life-threatening, it is negligent.

Nursing home staff is required under the federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 to maintain the health and hygiene of all residents. This includes brushing their teeth if they cannot do so themselves and ensuring they receive appropriate, regular dental care. When this care is not provided, many elderly residents suffer from cavities, tooth pain and other serious health problems including those related to insufficient food intake.

Proper dental care is critical to not only keep residents’ teeth clean, but also reduces the amount of time and money spent to treat the coinciding health problems associated with poor oral health. In 2004, researchers discovered a link between oral bacteria and hospital-acquired pneumonia in the elderly, which as it turns out, is the number one cause of death in nursing homes across the nation.

When steps are not taken to maintain oral health, residents often suffer from pain, illness and sometimes death.

What Contributes to Poor Dental Health in These Facilities?

  • Staffing: An overworked, unqualified nursing staff is often unable to provide the level of dental care required. Prior to the late ‘80s, oral health was not a priority for the majority of Americans, and most senior residents would already have full dentures, which are easier for staff to care for and clean. These days, residents are more likely to have retained their natural teeth that require more care than staff may be able to provide.
  • Residents with Dementia: Nearly two-thirds of long-term care residents suffer from dementia. This impairment often leads many to physically resist oral care, making it more difficult to prevent and treat problems.
  • Medications: Many prescription drugs taken by older adults, such as antidepressants, blood pressure and antiseizure medications, can reduce saliva and cause dry mouth. This side effect is especially harmful to oral health because normal saliva production helps prevent tooth decay and controls bacteria.

While these are difficult issues to address, nursing home-type facilities have a responsibility to staff enough employees to provide care, monitor and adjust medications that effect oral health and find ways to help residents with dementia, or other disabilities, receive the care they need. If they are unable to do so, and do not suggest moving a resident to a facility that can provide that level of care, they may be found negligent.

If you believe a loved one has been harmed because a care facility failed to maintain their oral heath, contact the nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Hupy and Abraham today. Call 800-800-5678 or start a live chat anytime at