Citing a California nursing home death linked to an untreated oral infection, the statewide organization representing dental hygienists today called for greater focus on the oral health of seniors residing in nursing and convalescent homes.
"Oral health is not a cosmetic issue -- it can be a matter of life and death, especially for seniors," said Jean Honny, president of the California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA), the professional organization representing the state's dental hygienists.
Honny pointed to recent media coverage of a 76-year-old woman who died earlier this year at a Northern California nursing home that state health officials said neglected the woman's dental hygiene. The patient developed an oral infection that lead directly to her death.
"Such tragedies can be avoided if the advocates, health care professionals and family members better understand the importance of oral health," she said. "September is Healthy Aging Month and a perfect time to promote sound oral health for our elderly population."
CDHA offered the following tips to make sure seniors receive the care they need:
-- Make sure the patient receives a full oral inspection during the intake process
-- Realize that even a senior with dentures needs dental care and check ups. Dentures must fit properly in order to prevent pain and the possibility of infection
-- Nursing home patients should have a minimum of one oral exam per year
-- Family members should investigate how their loved ones can conveniently be transported to a dental office if necessary
"There is a misconception that loss of teeth is inevitable and that dentures take all dental care issues off the table," said Honny. "But this couldn't be further from the truth because dentures can hide serious infections and early signs of cancer."
For the past year, CDHA has been raising public awareness about oral health and the role of dental hygienists, who are highly educated and must be licensed by the State of California. In addition to helping patients understand the connection between oral health care and overall health, dental hygienists educate patients about proper oral hygiene and treat periodontal disease to prevent the condition from advancing and complicating other diseases.
The California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state's dental hygiene profession. While registered dental hygienists have worked in the state for nearly a century, CDHA was established 20 years ago when two regional associations merged to form a unified professional group. CDHA represents thousands of dental hygienists throughout the state and is dedicated to expanding opportunities for the profession and access to care for all Californians.
Healthy Aging(R) Month is an annual observance month designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older. More information can be found at http://www.healthyaging.net.