Oral health conditions in nursing homes alarming, says ADA

Jan. 25, 2002
According to the ADA, the federal government's method for identifying poor oral health conditions among nursing home residents is inadequate.

The federal government's method for identifying poor oral health conditions among nursing home residents is inadequate, and the American Dental Association (ADA) seeks to redress the problem, to ensure that these facilities correctly assess oral health and provide appropriate care to their residents.

"The prevalence of oral disease in nursing facilities is being grossly underestimated by the national data the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) collects and uses to regulate these facilities," said Dr. Greg Folse, a Louisiana dentist and a leader in the effort to reform the nursing home oral health assessment process. "For example, national CMS data show that less than 1 percent of nursing facility residents across the country have gum disease. How can this be true when smaller sample studies have shown prevalence of gum disease in over 37 percent of the population? This is only one of several alarming statistics."

The ADA maintains that oral health is a crucial part of overall health and quality of life, especially for the elderly, and urges that nursing facility staff and state surveyors be trained and then required to look into the mouth as part of their review process.

"The ADA wants to work with Congress and CMS to improve dental care among senior populations, and the first step is improving the assessment process," said ADA President Gregory Chadwick, MS, DDS. "Thankfully, Sen. John Breaux and members of his Special Committee on Aging are working to do this."

Chairman Breaux (D-La.) and ranking member Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), using data provided by Dr. Folse, recently urged CMS to improve the status of oral health in nursing homes, including addressing problems of assessment, surveyor training and attention to the oral hygiene problems of residents.

Dr. Chadwick praised CMS Administrator Thomas Scully for taking a serious look at the assessment problem and stressed that the ADA will continue to press for improvements in the process.