There are plenty of studies that show smiling is good for us. When we smile, we release endorphins, natural painkillers and serotonin, all of which elevate our mood and help reduce physical pain.
So why is oral care amongst elderly residents in care homes not more of a priority?
A recent Care Quality Commission report highlighted that care home residents did not always have access to dentists and were not routinely getting the support they needed to look after their teeth. Fewer than half of homes had a policy to promote and protect people’s oral health.
In the UK, as in many developed countries, we have an ageing population, and this is a trend that’s set to increase. In 2016 there were 1.6m people aged 85 years or over and this is projected to double to 3.2m by 2041, and treble by 2066!
And when you consider over 16% of the population aged over 85 years currently live in care homes, the number of people potentially not receiving oral care is set to increase to significant levels – certainly not something to smile about.
But oral care is more than just preventing tooth decay, it can genuinely impact on physical, social and psycho-social wellbeing.
Research shows that 1 in 3 people admitted to hospitals or who are in care homes are malnourished or at risk of becoming so.
Poor nutrition and hydration affect patients’ well-being but can also impact their ability to recover from illness, and ultimately lead to increased admission to hospital.
Often the condition of the patient’s mouth or teeth can have a direct bearing on nutritional intake. If teeth are decayed and painful, dentures not fitting [or even missing] or gums/tongues/lips sore, then the patient may struggle to eat or drink. And if no-one takes the time to look inside that patient’s mouth then it is unlikely to improve.
All this before we even consider the impact of bacterial aspiration and pneumonia!
Oral care should be considered a basic human right. Not only is it essential to keep the mouth healthy but would you feel like speaking with friends and family, smiling or kissing a loved one if you hadn’t cleaned your teeth recently? So why should it be any different for people in care homes!
Clearly training is an issue, and various initiatives have been introduced to ensure better delivery of personalised oral care in hospitals and care homes. But we need to do more!
If our mother/father where in a care home, we would want the best for them. Who knows, we might end up in one ourselves in the future and if we do, it would be good to know we had something to smile about!
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