New research suggests that oral health deteriorates during hospitalisation and is associated with an increased risk of hospital-acquired infections and reduced quality of life.
Research – to be published next month in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology – provides the latest evidence that oral health is being overlooked in hospitals, with potential serious consequences.
The research reviewed data from five studies between 1998 and 2009 in the UK, USA, France and Netherlands.
The research identified increases in plaque accumulation and gingival and mucosal inflammation.
The findings were worst amongst patients who required help with their breathing.
The research also concluded that: ‘…on the basis of current evidence, a deterioration would be expected to increase the risk of hospital-acquired infections, increase care costs and have a negative impact on health-related quality of life’.
The research pointed to respiratory diseases as one of the main risks resulting from poor oral health and hygiene.
In previous studies, poor oral health and dysfunction has been linked to a negative effect on nutritional status.
There are also consequences for quality of life, well-being and personal dignity during hospital stays.
The research points to several potential reasons for the decline in oral health during hospitalisation including:
• The low priority given to oral care provision
• The implementation of improper oral care regimes.
Both of these were a direct consequence of hospitalisation.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: ‘In a challenging hospital environment, it may be inevitable that oral care is seen as a low priority, but it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that some of the risks are minimised.
‘There are guidelines for the provision of oral care in hospital settings, but as the research points out, there is limited detail for carers.
The help of close family and friends during hospital stays can make a difference to this aspect of their care and well-being and more should be done to encourage their involvement.
‘Anyone who wants advice about the oral care of a loved one in hospital can contact our Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188. The line is staffed by qualified dental nurses, who will be able to advise how best to provide oral care during hospitalisation and what to do when the patient is discharged and returns home.’