Oral health's integral role in long-term care quality

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Brant Herman
Brant Herman

The daily routine of proper oral hygiene can be challenging for just about anyone. Are we all brushing twice a day or flossing as often as needed? While easy and relatively quick actions can reduce the severity of oral health issues developing over time, they are some of the most challenging activities to consistently attend to in many managed care settings.

Residents may resist attempts made by caregivers to brush their teeth, fewer residents have full dentures — which were easier to clean, previous dental work may be wearing out plus the effects of aging on oral health are always at work.

Continuing research reveals the links between oral hygiene and overall health. Residents with diabetes or cardiovascular disease are at greater risk when dental issues are unaddressed. Even the slightest discomfort while chewing can lead to a range of problems including malnutrition and depression. With basic prevention and regular dental care, many of these issues are easy to address and prevent. Failure to address dental issues can lead to a rapid decline in oral and overall health.

On top of these challenges, insurance coverage for preventive care or treatment can be expensive or hard to find. Medicare does not cover preventive or restorative dental care. While most states do provide some coverage to adults on Medicaid, coverage varies widely and finding dentists who accept Medicaid can be difficult. This leaves long-term care facilities in a challenging situation of needing to pay extra attention to routine oral hygiene, as residents will have to pay out of their pocket for even a basic cleaning and exam.

While much of the burden for effective, daily care does fall on the caregivers and family members of residents, there are innovations which bring dental expertise to managed care facilities without the inconvenience of transporting residents to a dental office, or when residents do need to visit a dentist, the patient, their family and the dentist can have a better idea of the treatment plan and potential costs.

Teledentistry has historically been utilized in locations where distance makes a visit to a dentist or specialist a challenge. Now, bundled systems such as MouthWatch allow for easy integration of this technology into the managed care setting, benefitting everyone. A digital, intraoral camera shows the entire interior of the resident's mouth — educating and revealing areas of concern, and images of any concerns can securely be shared with selected dental professionals.

By integrating a teledentistry program into your facility, everyone benefits. Care provided by staff improves, families are kept in the loop on any concerns, dentists can consult with patients and caregivers quickly and more effectively, visiting hygienists can easily get a dentist's opinion and when a dental office visit is required — there are fewer surprises — plus the dentist can follow up without the need to transport a resident back to the office for a brief visit.

Addressing oral health in the managed care setting is going to require some new thinking, but the benefits to everyone make it well worth it.

Brant Herman is the founder and CEO of Mouthwatch.

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