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Dental hygiene often a major area of neglect in nursing homes

Life expectancy in the U.S. has gone up significantly over the past century. While this is a positive change overall, it has also created problems for families and healthcare facilities alike. Specifically, more elderly adults must now be put into nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Many of these patients are suffering from dementia and other age-related mental illnesses.


As nursing home populations increase, staffing levels are often insufficient to keep up adequate standards of care. The result is nursing home neglect and even wrongful death. A recent article in the New York Times discusses a problem that is prevalent at many nursing homes in Philadelphia and around the country: inadequate dental hygiene.

A dental professional quoted in the article notes that “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.”

In many cases, teeth don't get brushed at all; either by patients themselves or by staff members. Many patients with dementia or Alzheimer's do not remember to brush. Staff members may be too busy to help patients brush, and will often fail to schedule regular dentist appointments for residents.

This can lead to chipped/cracked teeth, gum disease and severe, chronic pain. In some cases, it leads to pneumonia, which can be fatal. Studies show that about 10 percent of pneumonia deaths in assisted-living facilities are related to inadequate oral hygiene.

If you have a grandparent, parent or other loved one in a nursing home, you may want to make sure that they are receiving proper dental care and have help with oral hygiene if they cannot manage it themselves. If their healthcare or other needs are being neglected, you may wish to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand your family's rights and options.

Source: New York Times, “In Nursing Homes, an Epidemic of Poor Dental Hygiene,” Catherine Saint Louis, Aug. 4, 2013

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