He was a WWII veteran suffering from dementia, residing at a nursing home in Virginia.
The overall care seemed sufficient.
It was months before his daughter realized her father’s toothbrush had collected dust. She brushed them each time she came to visit. Then he began to complain of headaches. His daughter pressed to have him seen by a dentist. Finally, he was.
His tooth was cracked in two, down to the nerve. A portion of the tooth had become lodged in the roof of his mouth.
Our West Palm Beach nursing home neglect lawyers know that in addition to being incredibly painful, such problems have been known to contribute to increased rates of infection and even pneumonia – a top cause of death among nursing home residents.
In this sense, lax dental hygiene becomes no small matter, even though brushing one’s teeth might seem secondary to the many other tasks for which overworked aides are responsible.
In fact, a recent New York Times report labeled it an “epidemic” problem.
Across the country, nursing home residents are plagued with gum disease, cracked teeth and cavities. While such conditions might be manifestations of other health problems, it is largely attributable to the fact that their mouths are not routinely cleaned.
Sometimes, matters are complicated by the fact that some patients, particularly those with dementia, may be resistant to such care. It makes it easier to skip it. However, facilities must make it a priority.
And yet, it’s one of the last things to receive attention.
While national data on the problem is scant, seven states have evaluated samples of residents to determine how big the issue might be.
In Kansas, they discovered some 30 percent of residents had a substantial amounts of debris on more than two-thirds of their teeth. More than a third of patients there were suffering from untreated tooth decay.
In Wisconsin, nearly a third had teeth that had broken down to the roots. Slightly more had teeth that had not been properly cleaned in some time.
In New York, researchers found that only about 15 percent of nursing home residents were receiving any oral care whatsoever. Even those that were, the extent of it was typically a brushing that lasted, on average, 16 seconds. Some facilities didn’t even have any toothbrushes.
Dental care is not option in nursing homes. It’s a federally-mandated part of care, per the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987.
It’s true that many people arrive at the nursing home with teeth and gums that are in bad shape. But those in nursing homes require more care now than ever. A number of prescription medications used to treat dementia and other conditions can increase dry mouth, reduce saliva output and result in rapid deterioration of oral health, if proper care isn’t received.
A 2008 systematic review of previous research, published in The Journal of American Geriatrics Society, revealed that 1 in 10 cases of deadly pneumonia in nursing homes could have been prevented had the patient received proper dental hygiene.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
In Nursing Homes, an Epidemic of Poor Dental Hygiene, Aug. 4, 2013, By Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times
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