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Is Nursing Home Death Linked to Tooth Brushing?

| Aug 6, 2019 | Medical Malpractice, Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing Homes Can Reduce Deadly Infections by Helping Residents Brush Their Teeth

Brushing your teeth helps prevent cavities and gum disease, but that’s not its only benefit. Studies have shown that poor oral health can lead to serious illness. In nursing homes, where many residents have weak or compromised immune systems, maintaining high standards of hygiene is incredibly important. When most nursing home residents had dentures, care was easy—but providing proper oral care to people who still possess most or even all of their teeth takes much longer. Patients themselves may see oral care as less important than care for other ailments or may no longer be able to take care of their teeth as needed. Nursing homes are meant to fill the care gap that develops when sickness, disability, or old age gets in the way of our loved ones looking after themselves. By failing to provide necessary dental care, these facilities are endangering the lives of their residents.

The State of Nursing Home Oral Care

Looking at statistics about how often nursing home residents brush (or fail to brush) their teeth is sobering: Up to 80% may not receive any dental-related care on a daily basis. For reference, it’s estimated that around 85% of residents are not even able to brush their teeth—so even though reduced oral health care is a known problem, most facilities do not properly address it. A survey of Delaware nursing homes found that only 36% required yearly dental visits. With so little focus placed on oral care for nursing home patients, it’s no wonder so many of them see bad outcomes. Some members, while able to brush their own teeth, may be resistant or simply have no motivation to do so. Caregivers can help this segment by following recommendations to effectively increase rates of oral care among those who are able.

A Direct Link to Pneumonia

Infectious diseases can pose a danger to anyone, especially those contracted in the hospital. The same goes for nursing home patients; among them (and other elderly populations), pneumonia may present atypical symptoms and can lead to death. Cases of pneumonia that start in nursing homes may be more hazardous than those acquired at home. Often, the illness begins when solid particles fall into the lungs. These particles may just be saliva—but where bad dental hygiene is involved, they may include food particulates or bacteria that have accumulated on the teeth. Caregivers’ failure to forestall this phenomenon may lead to more, or more serious, occurrences of dangerous substances making their way into elders’ lungs.

Regular Tooth Brushing Can Make a Difference

The risk of infections in the respiratory tract and lungs can be reduced more than 10% by providing a devoted dental caregiver to nursing home residents, and studies have found that those who do not receive proper care may be 3 times more likely to die from pneumonia than those who do. In fact, even providing a regular mouthwash rinse helps reduce mouth bacteria levels. With such clear-cut data, there’s no excuse for nursing homes to ignore the oral care needs of their patients.

Protecting Elders Against Abuse and Malpractice

We want to help you make sure your loved ones get the treatment they deserve. Whether in cases of elder abuse, unsafe environments that lead to dangerous falls, or the use of unapproved medical treatments, you may be able to hold a nursing home or other care provider liable if their negligence causes illness or even death. Having your trust broken by a care provider who’s supposed to do their best for your loved ones is painful. We understand that you need someone who cares about you during this time—and our team at Williams DeClark Tuschman will do everything possible to make nursing homes pay for their irresponsible behavior. Contact us online or call (419) 719-5195 for a free consultation.