Across the United States, residents of nursing homes are experiencing an epidemic of poor oral hygiene. Older adults are keeping their teeth longer and therefore require increased dental care, but nursing home workers aren’t necessarily prepared to provide it. Additionally, residents often decline care from nursing home workers.
An article published in the New York Times describes the extent of this epidemic. At least seven states have used a survey developed by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors to evaluate the oral health of nursing home residents. In Kansas, 30 percent of residents had “substantial oral debris on at least two-thirds of their teeth.” In Wisconsin, about 30 percent of residents had teeth broken to the gums.
Barriers to care include financial issues, uncooperative residents, particularly those with dementia, and the decline of edentulism. These issues must be addressed to increase the oral health and overall well-being of nursing home residents.