Preventing Oral Neglect in Aging Communities

I once had a 100-year-old patient that I deemed to be mute. She would greet me with a nice, big smile. I talked and cracked jokes trying to keep her smiling every visit. I adored her. I gave her detailed instructions on how to improve her oral health each visit for at least a year.

One day, after finishing up a routine cleaning, I was wheeling this patient back to her room, and she motioned me to slow down. It turns out she recognized the pastor walking down the hallway.

As I slowed down, my patient spoke out in a firm voice. I stood there in shock as she conversed with the pastor and giggled at all of his jokes. I learned something valuable that day. My patient saw me as an ordinary caregiver. She was guarded and did not feel comfortable enough to talk to me. Weeks later, that changed.

Neglect has taken a toll on patients.  Most dental professionals hardly have time to speak to them, let alone help with their oral care.

CNAs Are Overwhelmed

When addressing the issue of oral neglect of our seniors, I want to be totally fair. I don’t want people to think that nursing home staff are not doing their job. 

I take my hat off to anyone who takes care of elders because it is a big responsibility, especially if they have Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s decline of cognitive and functional abilities, which makes it even harder to care for seniors.

The average Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) has to wake up 10 seniors, fully dress them and comb their hair, brush their teeth and put their shoes on, change their diapers, and get them ready for breakfast by a certain time.

In addition, many of the CNAs who work in nursing homes do not have enough training or time.

We Need To Work Together To Help Seniors

Elders need us because they have worked hard to build this country. Now their hands are too old to continue. But our hands are strong enough to fight for them.

So, I’m sending an SOS and asking you to help save our seniors, one smile at a time. If you have a nursing home in your community or you are a dental professional, volunteer time to train staff in nursing homes.

Since the CNAs have a high turnover rate, you can offer to train them more often. You could also create a video and send it to your local nursing home.  The facility will then use the video for the in-service training.

During the training, you can use information from my new book The Tooth and Nothing But the Truth. The book contains information that will help take care of the oral care of seniors and will help the nursing home provide better dental services for seniors.


Embrace Mobile Dentistry

The chairs in the traditional dental offices are bolted to the floor. So, there is no room for a wheelchair in an average dental office, especially if it is an older building that is not handicap accessible.

And many seniors in nursing homes are in wheelchairs and jerry chairs. Once you move them from the bed to the jerry chair or wheelchair, they don’t want to be moved again.

So, it’s difficult to transport elders to the dental office or move them to a dentist’s chair from their wheelchair once you get there.

It’s better to take the dental office to the nursing home. The seniors’ beds can lay up and down like a dentist’s office, allowing dental professionals to undertake all procedures right there. This way, we will be able to provide more efficient dental services for seniors.

There is A Need To Address Disparities

The current status of oral neglect of elders varies greatly. It mostly depends on whether the senior has financial resources, insurance, or access to care and transportation. Those who don’t have these resources have poorer oral health than those who do.

It is important to engage in educational and advocacy efforts to provide information for all oral health professionals because of the complexity of this issue.

The Geriatric Tooth Fairy is a part of these efforts. Invite Sonya Dunbar to help advocacy efforts by giving talks or offering training on how we can help our greatest generation. You can also purchase her book, the Tooth And Nothing But the Truth to gain more knowledge on taking care of the oral health of seniors.


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