Research Seniors

Improving oral care for seniors

brushing your teeth is an important part of oral care. A hand holds a toothbrush in the center of the photo, there is a plain grey background behind it.

October 1 is National Oral Care for Seniors Day. We look at the latest on a program Providence Health Care launched in 2021 to make sure seniors in its hospitals receive proper oral care to guard against other health conditions from starting, and to make them feel good about themselves.  

A year ago, St. Paul’s Hospital ACE (Acute Care for Elders) Unit, together with the University of British Columbia’s Geriatric Dentistry Program, developed a new program for patients on that unit. The goal was to prevent things like tooth and gum decay and disease from developing and to improve older patients’ sense of well being and good hygiene through regular oral care.

The project was created in response to requests from patients who wished for supplies, a routine time for oral care, and for staff trained with knowledge in the area.

St. Paul’s clinical nurse educator Kathy Le said at the time that oral care is important, “but it often moves down the list as nurses prioritize assessments, medications, toileting and other patient care needs. Research has shown the negative impact of poor oral care on patients and I wanted to do something to make it easier for nurses to prioritize it.”

Twelve months later, each patient on the unit has individualized oral-care plans. Geriatric-appropriate supplies, such as denture products and larger toothpaste tubes for hands with limited mobility, are now stocked on the unit. Education is provided to staff about care.

As well, an analysis of patient charts showed a more than doubling of oral-care documentation per patient after the program began. “This is significant,” says Le. “Before this program, documentation rarely occurred. We were excited if a patient had in their chart even oral care being done once a day.”

The team includes two nurses, a speech language pathologist, a dietician, two staff from UBC Geriatric Dentistry and a patient partner.

The team is currently analyzing documentation at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital’s Geriatric Medicine Unit to serve as a comparison group. It has conducted interviews with patients and families about the project both before and after it started, and will use that feedback to make any improvements or changes.  

Read how the program got launched here.