Nursing Home Neglect of Dental Hygiene Brushed Under the Rug

In the course of highlighting the gravely serious issue of South Carolina nursing home neglect, there can be a tendency to overlook the seemingly small matters that can quickly snowball into major problems.
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One of the best examples of this is staffers’ neglect of dental hygiene among nursing home residents. This may seem a trivial matter when we know that harried, underpaid staffers are often charged with properly feeding, dressing, bathing and medicating those in their care. What’s more, many patients with dementia often resist routine dental care, sometimes with physical force.

However, neglecting to take care of one’s teeth and gums may result in more than just a cavity. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association linked oral hygiene to health-care associated pneumonia or respiratory tract infections in elderly people. This is alarming because pneumonia is the No. 1 killer of institutionalized older people.

What’s more, this is not something we are seeing cropping up in a few facilities here and there. Dentists quoted recently by reporters with The New York Times called the problem an epidemic. It’s one that far too often goes unnoticed, however, because even if someone dies of pneumonia or some other related respiratory infection, loved ones don’t necessarily draw the conclusion between that and poor dental care.

Unless loved ones are looking for signs of it, dental hygiene neglect may be tough to spot. We do know that it can result in agonizing pain for elderly residents. Severe headaches, for example, could be one sign of it.

That was what happened to a World War II veteran recently in a Virginia nursing home. His daughter had gone for one of his regular visits and noted that his toothbrush was literally collecting dust. She began brushing his teeth herself after she visited for their lunches together several times a week. But then he began to complain of horrible headaches. The daughter said she had to nag the staff to make an appointment with a dental care professional. When they finally did, the dentist found that not only had a tooth split in two, part of that tooth had become lodged in the roof of her father’s mouth.

Issues like this are likely more commonplace than we realize – not to mention cavities and gun disease.

Yet, nursing home staffers are required under the federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 to brush the teeth of those residents who cannot do it themselves. It’s not getting done nearly as often as it should.

While statistics in this regard can be tough to come by, we do know of a 2006 study out of New York that found just 16 percent of nursing home residents received in that state received any kind of oral care. For those who did, the average brush time was 15 seconds.

In Wisconsin, state officials following up on complaints of a lack of dental care analyzed some 1,000 residents from two dozen nursing homes. They found that a third had teeth that were broken down to the gums – with painful, visible roots. Another third had a substantial number of visible oral debris.

Chronic neglect of dental hygiene within nursing homes is not only dangerous, it’s illegal. Your loved one shouldn’t have to suffer or risk serious illness because nursing home staff failed to do their job.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
In Nursing Homes, an Epidemic of Poor Dental Hygiene, Aug. 4, 2013, By Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Adult Bed Rails Lead to North Carolina Wrongful Deaths, Injuries, Jan. 30, 2013, Rock Hill Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer Blog

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