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Oral health overlooked in hospitals?

Nobody likes visiting the hospital, for a number of reasons. An extended stay usually means a relatively severe illness, which could mean days or even weeks of discomfort. Then there are the usual complaints about the food, the crowded wards and the long waits. However, there is one issue that is being overlooked – deteriorating oral health.

During extended hospital stays, patients’ oral health tends to get worse over time. This is according to recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, which found that over a period of two weeks hospital patients experienced increases in both gum disease and plaque formation.

This makes sense. After all, staying in hospital may mean being bedridden or fatigued for long periods of time, and patients may not be able to get up to brush their teeth. They may also forget to do so if they are particularly ill, as it will fall down their list of priorities.

The hospitals that were studied did not have any policies in place to check patients’ oral health. This is understandable; doctors and nurses are overworked already without having to worry about dental care for everyone in their hospital. However, it is clear that something needs to be done.

Poor oral health can be uncomfortable, but it can also lead to more serious problems. Gum disease, for example, has been linked to a number of conditions from oral cancer to heart attacks. The British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) hopes to find a solution to this issue as soon as possible.

One solution might be to improve hospital meals. Dr Nigel Carter, the BDHF’s chief executive, said: “It is… clear from the Campaign for Better Hospital Food initiative that standards need to be improved. There is a link between nutrition and oral health, and we call on the government to implement compulsory hospital food standards.”

However, it may be that the friends and relatives of those staying in hospital should be informed about caring for their oral health. This could easily be incorporated into a practice’s dental marketing, with posters or leaflets used to encourage patients not to forget about their loved ones’ teeth when they are staying in hospital.

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