Survey finds dental problems at Conn. care centers

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A first-of-its-kind survey of the dental health of Connecticut’s older population has found that more than half of patients in long-term care facilities had untreated tooth decay last year, while nearly a third of patients with no teeth were missing some or all of their dentures.

The survey by the state Department of Public Health raises concerns that many vulnerable, older adults are not receiving the dental care they need, health officials said.

“Oral health is integral to overall good health, but is often an overlooked aspect of an older adult’s general health,” said Dr. Jewel Mullen, the state’s public health commissioner. “This oversight is especially true for vulnerable older adults — those with impaired mobility, diminished sensory awareness, multiple chronic health conditions and social and economic limitations.”

More than 400 adults were screened for dental problems at eight long-term care facilities that agreed to take part in the survey. Twelve other long-term care centers declined to participate. The state did not release the names of the nursing homes.

The prevalence of untreated decay among the long-term care residents was more than 2.5 times higher than the national average for adults 75 years and older, officials said.

The survey also screened more than 400 other older adults at 15 senior centers. Those participants had fewer dental problems, however, 26 percent of them had untreated tooth decay.

Nearly 60 percent of the adults screened at the senior centers did not have dental insurance, and nearly 40 percent of them said they hadn’t seen a dentist in more than a year or couldn’t remember the last time they did. Many said they couldn’t afford dental care.

The Public Health Department has an effort to improve oral health of older adults and is working with a task force that includes oral health advocates. A pilot program is set to begin this month at a Simsbury nursing home to educate staff and increase awareness of the importance of oral health and hygiene, health officials said.

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