Earlier this week we posted on the significant problem of poor dental care being provided to nursing home residents. Besides reminding local families about the importance of this particular issue, it is also a reminder that when it comes to nursing home negligence, even “minor” issues can cause serious harm.
When thinking about neglect in nursing homes, most consider residents allowed to fall and injure themselves, medication errors, and similar mistakes. However, the truth is that providing proper care to residents involves much more than simply not making “big” mistakes, but also in providing proper aide for the “small” tasks on a regular basis.
The oral health problems facing so many seniors in nursing homes is a testament to that. As we pointed out previously, researchers have identified how poor dental health leads to very serious medical complications in seniors. Many of those complications are literally life and death matters.
With growing understanding of the seriousness of ensuring proper mouth care, what are facilities doing about it? The reality: not much. One survey from the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors found that, in most cases, anywhere from one-third to one-half of residents evaluated had “substantial oral debris on most of their teeth.” One state investigation found that a staggering 31% of residents had broken teeth impacted into their gums.
In short, even with a recognized need for proper oral care, for most residents, regular dental treatment is non-existent. This is not just a sad oversight, it is a flagrant violation of state and federal caregiving laws. For example, the federal Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1987 specifically notes that nursing home standards require caregivers to brush the teeth of residents who are not able to do so on their own.
An added problem is the complications presented by dementia. Of course, many nursing home residents had various levels of cognitive decline. These seniors are often on different medications, like antidepressants, blood pressure pills, and more. Dentists note that such drugs can cause seniors to have a dry mouth. The dryness only adds to the oral care problem, and can exacerbate tooth decay.
The New York Times article that we referred to last week includes a good take-away lesson shared by the chairwoman of Boston University’s general dentistry program: “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.”
The bottom line: families should be on the look out for oral care problems with their loved ones at nursing homes. If you suspect that such caregiving is lacking, do not stay silent. Ask nursing home employees about it and ensure that your relative is given proper support to ensure they do not suffer unnecessarily as a result.
If you suspect more serious consequences, please contact a nursing home neglect attorney to learn how the law might apply in your case.
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