Nursing home neglect in New York City can encompass a wide variety of actions – or, rather, inactions.
One that historically hasn’t gotten as much attention is dental hygiene. Even family members who are vigilant may not notice right away when this aspect of their loved one’s care has been neglected. In fact, it’s usually not until that lack of care manifests itself in some other way that the negligence becomes apparent.
The New York Times recently explored this issue, calling the problem “epidemic.”
Mouths that aren’t kept clean can suffer from painful cracked teeth, rotting, diseased gums and cavities. Patients, even if they are able to verbalize their pain, may not realize that poor dental care is the culprit.
In one case chronicled by the newspaper, a woman noted her father’s toothbrush had been collecting dust. She started brushing his teeth herself when she visited for lunch. Months went by and the dementia patient began to complain of splitting headaches. She said she pestered the staff into making a dentist appointment for him. Finally, they did and the source of his headaches was quickly uncovered: a cracked tooth, part of which had lodged into the roof of his mouth.
Nursing home staffers tend to be overworked as it is, a side effect of an increasingly for-profit system of care that places profits over people. Aides tend to be swamped with other tasks that include simple feeding, bathing, dressing, changing and toileting. Brushing patients’ teeth often becomes a low priority. It doesn’t help of course that many dementia patients may be resistant to help with routine dental hygiene.
Additionally, people with arthritis, diabetes and heart disease are at especially high risk for gum disease anyway. But a lack of care makes it worse, and none of this makes nursing homes any less culpable when health problems arise as a result of poor care.
Not only can tooth decay lead to awful pain, some studies suggest that it can actually contribute to pneumonia and respiratory tract infections. Pneumonia is the No. 1 cause of death for institutionalized elderly patients. It can also contribute to certain forms of oral cancer.
Yet problems from poor dental care among nursing home patients are widespread. While there aren’t any nationwide statistics on oral health in nursing homes, at least seven states have developed surveys to rate the problem.
In Kansas, for example, the health department analyzed some 540 elderly residents at 20 different nursing homes. What they found was that nearly a third hadn’t had a recent brushing and more than a third were suffering from untreated tooth decay.
In Wisconsin, the state analyzed some 1,100 nursing home residents and found that nearly one-third had teeth that were broken to the gums. Their roots were visible. More than a third had teeth that had not recently been cleaned.
In upstate New York, a 2006 study analyzing five different facilities found that only about 15 percent of nursing home patients were getting any oral care whatsoever. Those that did were only getting a brushing that lasted an average of 16 seconds. Many didn’t even have toothbrushes.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
In Nursing Homes, an Epidemic of Poor Dental Hygiene, Aug. 4, 2013, By Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times
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Medical Malpractice Watch: Hospitals Profit from Hospital-Acquired Infections, May 17, 2013, New York City Nursing Home Injury Lawyer Blog