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Oral Health is a Fundamental Part of Overall Health and Well-Being that Should Not Be Neglected

When considering the health and well-being of elderly people, oral health does not often come to mind as an important component.  In literature regarding risk factors for diminished well-being among older adults, it is uncommon for oral health to be explicitly listed, although other health illnesses and disease conditions are often discussed.  Although it may sound shocking to most, untreated dental decay is the most prevalent health condition in the world according to global burden of disease estimates.

Overall health and body functioning are important aspects of well-being, especially among the elderly population.  Even though oral health is a critical component of overall health, it is not often considered in gerontological research.

According to an article by the Oxford University Press, “even when well-being research takes disability among older adults into account, common measures of disability such as limiting health problems or Activities of Daily Living (ADL) do not explicitly refer to disabling conditions related to oral health.”  Yet, oral problems (especially loss of teeth and edentulism) are significantly associated with the risk of depressive symptoms and decreased quality of life.

A recent study published in The Gerontological Society of America journal examined the extent to which deterioration of oral health in older adults affected their subjective well-being.  The results of the study showed that worsening of oral health was significantly related to an increase in depressive symptoms, even after adjusting for confounding factors such as declining health, decreasing ability to perform everyday tasks, and decreased social support. Moreover, poor oral health played a significant role in the decline in quality of life and life satisfaction.

Older adults living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities must be given high quality care, including proper oral care. Oral health and overall health go hand-in-hand—they should not be considered separate entities. Unregulated care aides are usually the ones who provide direct nursing home resident care. Not only are they inadequately trained, they are given strenuous workloads and are at high risk of burnout. This puts the safety and well-being of the residents at risk, and also affects the quality of general health and oral care that they receive. Neglect to tend to a patient’s oral health can cause significant pain and suffering.  It may negatively affect a patient’s diet, speech, and general quality of life and well-being. Moreover, poor quality of oral health care for nursing home patients leads to critical consequences for the health care system.