Dental care is overlooked in many hospitals despite potentially serious consequences, according to new research to be published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology. Unattended teeth can lead to decay and infection, which in turn could even lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, oral cancer or lung disease.
Why It’s Important
Failure to provide adequate oral hygiene can deteriorate a patient’s quality of life, well being and ability to fight off hospital-borne infections. An article from Medical News Today entitled “Oral Health Deteriorates During Hospital Stays” explains why this is the case:
The research points to several potential reasons for the decline in oral health during hospitalisation including: the low priority given to oral care provision; the implementation of improper oral care regimes; and as a direct consequence of hospitalisation.
Gingivitis or an oncoming cavity holds lower priority than making sure a person’s body accepts a kidney transplant, for instance, but it could become a little more dangerous if allowed to continue unchecked. It is important for patients whose health is already in a compromised position to have any other risks eliminated, especially if they require an oxygen mask or other form of breathing assistance. Poor oral health could also take a toll on a patient’s personal dignity. The Medical News Today article said research for this conclusion came from analyzing 5 separate studies from 1998-2009 that took place in the U.S., France, UK and Netherlands.
Take Care of Their Teeth
Many hospitals have guidelines for overall dental health, but they often are not specific or instructive enough for caretakers to implement them. Dental advocates encourage family and close friends to make sure that the patient receives adequate dental care, and even to assist in carrying out the tasks themselves as a way to be more involved. Always ask the attending doctor or nurses to be sure what will be most helpful for the specific patient, but here are some helpful guidelines.
If the patient has the dexterity, make sure that he or she has access to a toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as a small cup they can use to rise and spit. If the patient is unable to perform the movement, you can gently brush their teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste. You might not want to wet the toothbrush beforehand if there is a chance it might drip down the patient’s throat. If the patient is unable to rinse and spit with a cup, you can take a damp washcloth and wipe the toothpaste from his or her mouth.
The patient will need a higher level of dexterity for this task, or else a caretaker or family member should assume the responsibility. Though it may be difficult, flossing helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease by clearing plaque away from surfaces the toothbrush cannot reach.
Mouthwash is an important, helpful way to clear the mouth of debris and disinfect it, but patients must be able to swish and spit on their own, or else it could be a choking hazard.The patient will need a small cup with the recommended amount of mouthwash as well as a place to spit when the allotted time has passed. Follow the directions on the mouthwash bottle.
Poor oral hygiene could pose several health risks for the patient. Dental care for hospital patients must be held as a priority in order to avoid further complications and discomfort.