Jerome Solow, DDS, in Oklahoma, travels the state in a minivan loaded with tools, jawbone impressions and, toothbrushes, to provide oral care for the elderly living in nursing homes.

"Their teeth are broken off at the root," says Solow. "Their mouth is a wreck for the most part."

According to Solow, patients in nursing homes are neglected oral care. Some patients are missing so many teeth that they can’t chew and others have lost their dentures, he says. However, the most widespread problem is the lack of daily brushing. Some residents can’t brush their own teeth and the employees at the nursing home are not doing it either, according to Solow.

Robbie Brite, whose parents live in a Tulsa nursing home, says her mother, 82, went roughly 6 months without having her teeth brushed. When Solow visited, her teeth and gums were in such bad shape that they bled when he cleaned them.

"It upset the whole family, says Brite. "You don’t want to see your parents hurt."

Solow says brushing should be worked into the staff’s daily routine.

"All it takes is 30 seconds to a minute," he says.

According to nursing home officials, the challenge is balancing oral care with other pressing matters: feeding, bathing, changing clothes, and keeping the patients active. The problems are also tied to the lack of funding and lack of trained employees.

"I’m very empathetic to their problem," Solow says. "Bad oral hygiene and bacteria lead to other health problems, such as cardiovascular issues and discomfort."

Although Solow gets paid for the work, he says he’s really not doing it for the money.

[www.tulsaworld.com, October 9, 2006]