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On Call: Leadership in Nursing

Let 2017 be the Year of the Mouth

Published January 16, 2017 10:04 AM by Martie Moore

In 2014, Shirley Gutkowski wrote an article entitled "The Biggest Wound: Oral Health in Long-Term Care Residents." Her article outlined how oral care is not being done in care settings across the nation. Her call to action was to not only understand the impact that poor oral care has on health, but also rethink the approach of oral care in the elderly. Her article is excellent and well worth your time to review. The one aspect that the article misses is that this is not a long-term care issue only.

Health Affairs devoted their December 2016 journal to "Oral Health and More." Health Affairs is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the serious exploration of domestic and international health policy issues. Why would a journal committed to health policy be devoting an entire issue to oral health?

When we look to the research, we now have a greater understanding of why oral health and care have risen to a higher level of importance. The research tells us that poor oral care can contribute to cardiovascular, pneumonia and other infectious diseases. The research also tells us that there are issues of social disparities with oral health. Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives generally have the poorest oral health of any ethnic groups in the United States. Experts also share that more than 47 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease. In adults aged 65 and older, 70 percent have periodontal disease.

When I first trained as a registered nurse, oral care was part of my practice. I thought about and attended to assuring that those I cared for had proper oral care administered. Times have changed, and recent studies show that oral care is one of the most forgotten actions in a care setting. So if you're looking to prevent hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) or any other hospital-acquired infections (HAI), there is value in getting back to the basics.

Maybe if we think about oral care as more than a basic task, and maybe if we change our perspective to oral care being a fundamental necessity of practice, we can make 2017 the year of the mouth.

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