Nursing home patients’ oral health ignored

High sugar diet and lack of dental care is causing ‘untold damage’

The unregulated use of fortified high sugar food supplements in nursing homes is causing untold damage to elderly residents, according to the vice-president of the Irish Dental Association (IDA).

Dr Anne Twomey said the situation was made worse due to the culture of gifting cakes and sweets to patients while, at the same time, failing to adequately meet their oral health needs.

She said: “These fortified oral nutritional supplements can be effective in increasing a patient’s calorie intake but one of the consequences of constantly sipping these high sugar content drinks is the very negative effect they have on patients’ oral health. When you add in all the gifts of sweets and soft drinks which patients receive, you have a recipe for disaster.”

There are more than 25,000 patients in private and voluntary nursing homes in Ireland, many on medications that leave them with dry mouth syndrome, exacerbating dental disease.

Dr Twomey continued: “Patients who’ve kept their own teeth into old age can lose them in as little as three months. Very often the situation has reached crisis proportions by the time I’m called in and I have to take out 15 to 20 teeth over a short period of time. Although these patients are among our most vulnerable citizens with limited control over their daily lives, they have little or no access to oral hygiene and preventive measures. For example I came across a case where a woman hadn’t had her teeth brushed in two years.”