Elderly people and patients who suffer from severe disabilities require the proper oral care. This is because they are vulnerable patients and can easily contract opportunistic illnesses. The provision of hygienic oral care is very essential in preventing serious illnesses such as pneumonia, stroke and heart diseases which are often associated with poor oral hygiene. Hygienic oral care also aids in preventing incidences of respiratory infections as well hampering the existence of pathogenic oral bacteria. Oral hygiene is crucial in averting dental problems such as gingivitis, dental caries and bad breath. It also helps in the healing as well as regeneration of the oral tissues. Since digestion begins in the mouth, good oral hygiene is very vital in preventing the washing of oral bacteria into the digestive track as well as down to the respiratory track (Stein & Henry 2009, pp. 44-46).
Despite the challenges involved in providing oral care for the elderly patients, failure to do so may result into the very severe infections and consequences. As highlighted above, poor oral care poses greater threats to health in regards to systematic infections ranging from hypertension, risk of stroke, diabetes, aspiration pneumonia, and myocardial infarction. Many health practitioners often agree that aspiration pneumonia has strong correlation with poor oral hygiene. One of the studies conducted in Japan concluded that most institutionalized patients who are exposed to poor oral hygiene have the risk of contracting aspiration pneumonia and even succumbing to death. Oral care helps to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful opportunistic infections as well as respiratory pathogens. Furthermore, research also reveals that most vascular diseases are closely linked to periodontal diseases. Fifty percent of the non-institutionalized patients of the ages 55 years and above suffer many periodontal diseases (Stein & Henry 2009, pp. 48-50). This is mainly because most of them lose their teeth, and hence receive poor oral care to keep their gums clean.
Given the various risks on poor oral hygiene, the long-term care practitioners should emphasize the importance of proper oral hygiene.
With the severe consequences of poor oral hygiene, there is a great need for action plan which shall assist in ensuring that the elderly receive adequate dental care. The nursing profession needs to act aptly so as to avoid unnecessary illnesses and death in the long term care. Nurses who are charged with the professional responsibility of providing oral health care for the elderly which ensure that the patients receive holistic care encompassing feeding, bathing, and toileting. This is very essential particularly among the patients who cannot care for themselves. There are several ways through which the proper oral hygiene can be achieved.
Tooth loss and gum deterioration can be avoided by proper care of the gums and teeth. One of the greatest means of achieving good oral hygiene involves training and education. Most nursing home residents have poor oral health mainly because they lack proper information on how to provide oral care. The nursing assistants and nurses should be well trained on how to provide oral care to elderly and disabled. Curricula in nursing should include oral effects of drugs, oral pathology, oral examinations and various strategies for prevention as well as referral. If such information is integrated in the syllabus, the nurses and nursing assistants will be greatly equipped to provide adequate oral health care (Craven & Hirnle 2008, pp. 706-710).
Training programs can also be organized for the practicing nurses so as to equip them with the necessary skills on oral health. Such training also helps to deal with issues of distaste, distrust, and fears which often hamper the nurses from providing the vital services. The nursing administrators need to support such training programs by encouraging nurses and nursing assistants to attend (Craven & Hirnle 2008, pp. 710-712).
Research reveals that lack of supplies is a major contributor to poor oral hygiene. Nurses and nursing assistants should push for the supply of oral hygiene such as mouthwashes, toothbrushes, and fluoride toothpaste. There should be clear expectations for the nurses as well as nursing assistants which cause them to be accountable (Craven & Hirnle 2008, pp. 712-713). In cases where the oral care cannot be provided in a normal session, the nursing administrators should provide solutions at the appropriate time.