As we get older, looking after our health becomes increasingly important. This doesn’t involve just our physical health. Instead, this includes our oral health.
But unfortunately, oral health problems are common in elderly people. Now, new research has found that there are substantial dental issues in many residents in nursing homes in the United States .
These worrying findings suggest that the elderly population need more support with their oral health in order to maximize their health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life.
Nursing Homes in the United States
Nursing homes are communities that are designed to provide daily living assistance to seniors. They are normally frequented by those aged 65 and over.
Statistics show that over 1.3million people live in nursing homes in the United States . This number is expected to grow further in years to come.
Research has shown that elderly people often have barriers to accessing oral health treatment . Therefore, this can worsen their oral health.
Researchers from a range of institutions organized the study. Their work was published in the JAMA Network Open journal .
The study involved the research team analyzing data on the oral health of Medicare beneficiaries that were living in U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) certified nursing homes in 2020 .
The team looked at the data, which provided information on missing teeth, broken teeth, cavities and pain when chewing . Residents had self-reported this information.
Overall, the data produced concerning findings. The study found that almost 1 in 5 residents had missing teeth. Additionally, 8% had broken teeth or cavities, and 11% felt pain when chewing .
Other common problems included broken dentures and inflamed gums. For many residents, they suffered with multiple issues. For example, they may have inflamed gums, cavities and difficulty in chewing. Therefore, discomfort is common.
Interestingly, the study found that there were disparities across racial and ethnic groups. For instance, black people were found to be 16% more likely to have no natural teeth or tooth fragments compared to white people . Moreover, American Indian Natives were also likelier to experience oral health problems than white people .
What causes these statistics?
The research team explored the likely causes behind these troubling statistics. They noted that seniors with chronic health conditions were likelier to have oral health problems than those without.
This is unsurprising, given the link between physical and oral health. Conditions like Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease – both of which are common in seniors – are often connected to oral health problems.
The research team also pointed out that another key cause was the lack of dental coverage. They found that 51% of residents surveyed didn’t have dental coverage .
While they often had Medicare, this didn’t cover dental services like check-ups, cleanings or cavity fillings . Also, cost concerns and a lack of mobility were other factors in causing the statistics.
What this means
These findings are certainly concerning. To think of the elderly generation being so vulnerable is worrying. With so many other health problems to contend with, it can be difficult to also have oral health problems.
The findings suggest that more attention should be given to the oral health of seniors. These statistics show that the oral health of this sizeable population is being neglected.
Dr. Natalia Chalmers is the Chief Dental Officer of the CMS. Chalmers commented on the findings, and issued a plea to the friends and family of those in nursing homes. She said that it is “essential to establish clear communication with the facility’s staff” in regards to the resident’s routine, which toothbrush and toothpaste they use and how it fits into their overall day-to-day life .
She recommends that friends and family ensure that nursing home staff are “well-informed about your loved one’s dentist and the designated contact person in emergencies” .
However, while friends and family can assist, there also needs to be work done by the wider medical community. The authors suggested this could be achieved by having a dental benefit for all Medicare recipients, or a dedicated dental treatment area in nursing homes .
Regardless of the approach taken, in the forthcoming years, hopefully there will be improvements in the oral health of seniors across the United States. This research shows that work needs to be done.
1) As we age, looking after our oral health becomes increasingly important. It is useful to have excellent oral health habits, as this can boost your oral health in the long-term. Therefore, a crucial thing to do is to attend regular dental check-ups, as this will provide you with an idea of the state of your oral health. This, along with brushing your teeth and flossing regularly are great steps you can take. We recommend booking an appointment now!
2) Do you have any family or friends that are in a nursing home? This research suggests that many people in nursing homes are in need of dental treatment. Therefore, could you assist someone by taking them to a dental appointment? It could improve their quality of life significantly. Have a think and see if there is anyone you can help!
What we offer at Taradale Dental
Taradale Dental is a Calgary dental clinic that provide its patients with a wide range of dental treatment options and advice aimed at improving their oral health.
We advise our patients to attend our Calgary-based dental clinic twice a year for a regular dental check-up. When problems are detected, we have many treatments available. For instance, these include cavity fillings and root canals. To try and prevent problems, it is important to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly.
Here at Taradale Dental, we also have some cosmetic treatments available! These include dental implants, tooth whitening and Invisalign™! Many people find that these treatments have a positive impact on their appearance, confidence and self-esteem.
In addition, all of our services at our Calgary dental clinic Taradale Dental are in line with the Alberta Dental Fee Guide.
We would love you to visit our Taradale Dental clinic in Calgary! You can find out more about us by visiting our website https://taradaledental.ca.
 Chamut, S., Shoff, C., Yao, K., Fleisher, L. A., & Chalmers, N. I. (2023). Oral Health Among Medicare Beneficiaries in Nursing Homes. JAMA Network Open. 6 (9): e2333367. DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.33367.
 Hallstrom, L. (2023). Total and Percentage of Elderly in Nursing Homes: 2023 Data. Available: https://www.aplaceformom.com/senior-living-data/articles/elderly-nursing-home-population. Last accessed: 29th September 2023.
 Janto, M., Iurcov, R., Daina, C. M., Neculoiu, D. C., Venter, A. C., Badau, D., Cotovanu, A., Negrau, M., Suteu, C. L., Sabu, M., & Daina, L. G. (2022). Oral Health among Elderly, Impact on Life Quality, Access of Elderly Patients to Oral Health Services and Methods to Improve Oral Health: A Narrative Review. Journal of Personalized Medicine. 12 (3): p372. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/jpm12030372.
 Mann, D. (2023). Dental issues plague America’s nursing home residents. Available: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-09-dental-issues-plague-america-nursing.html. Last accessed: 29th September 2023.