Majority of LTC residents turn down dental care, study finds

On average, 10% of long-term care residents received a dental exam during their stay
On average, 10% of long-term care residents received a dental exam during their stay

Almost 90% of long-term care residents don't receive dental care during their stay, according to new research.

The research, conducted by a team at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, analyzed the medical records of more than 2,500 skilled nursing facility residents who were discharged between 2008 and 2012. Of those residents, 10% received a dental exam at least one time during their stay.

The team found a 7% usage rate for dental care services in residents whose stays lasted less than a month. That rate increased to 30% for residents who stayed in the facility between one month and two years.

While the likelihood of receiving dental services increased the longer a resident stayed in the facility, the underutilization issue persisted for those residents who had longer lengths of stay — around 55% of residents who stayed at the facility beyond two years utilized dental care services.

The study also found that age and conditions played into whether residents received dental care. Those older than 76 years of age were more likely to use the services, as were those with nutritional, endocrine, metabolic, immunity or mental disorders.

“There is a problem within the population as a whole toward appreciation for dental care,” said lead researcher Frank Scannapieco, DMD, Ph.D., in a release published Tuesday. “The perception is that if you don't have pain, you don't have a problem.”

Scannapieco noted that dental care may take a back seat to other medical treatments for residents who stay in the facility for a short length of time. He suggests that further research to link oral health with overall quality of life is needed to improve residents' attitudes toward dental care.

The findings appear in Special Care in Dentistry.