Home and dry
According to dental hygienist and oral health educator, Jackie Whiteley - a winner of Philips’s sponsorship on a Smile Revolution oral health promotion course - health care professionals frequently overlook the issue of xerostomia, especially in elderly patients. She comments: “If one of our parents or relatives was resident in a care home, and carers on site did not have the knowledge and expertise to manage their dry mouth, the impact on their health and wellbeing could be considerable.”
In light of the current pandemic, the problem of dry mouth has no doubt been exacerbated by a number of factors including the need to wear masks and subsequent increased dehydration, depression, anxiety, stress or fear which are psychogenic causes of hypo-salivation.
Throughout this crisis, care home residents have been more isolated than usual and there is no doubt in my mind that their oral hygiene has been impaired further as a consequence.
This issue of dry mouth is something that is close to my heart and over the years I have tried to make a difference. Oral health in genera,l as well as dry mouth in particular, are overlooked in care homes and sadly not these problems are not addressed at a national level, let alone in many regional areas of the UK. You might be lucky to find your local care homes have the right supporting platforms for carers to receive appropriate training and support however many care homes are deficient in the field. Staff do a superb job caring for their residents but often find themselves overwhelmed with the amount of work that is required, and the issue of dry mouth is set aside, or not even considered.
There is an evident lack of funding which is a compounding factor. Even where community dental clinics are really proactive, the reality is that residents get seen on an ad-hoc basis only when they complain of a specific dental issue or their relatives flag up a request for care.
I am currently working with Oralieve to raise awareness of this issue, as well as providing training to carers through a company called Knowledge Oral Health Care. More recently I joined the oral health promotion course run by fellow dental hygienist and therapist Victoria Wilson.
The project I am now working on aims to put necessary structures in place to provide training and mentoring for the carers, so that they get the input of dental professionals and feel more confident and positive about delivering oral care. It is about raising awareness and ensuring that care home residents’ oral hygiene is prioritised. With the right level of training, carers should be able to identify early issues and be reassured that they can reach out to the right expert for support.
I am over the moon that Philips has given me the chance to be on The Smile Revolution course as it helps me brainstorm with my peers and develop a business plan for the care home oral health project. Philips has also committed to sponsor me further with additional mentoring support from Victoria over the next few months. I no longer feel on my own, in fact I could not feel more motivated.
I will be sharing my thoughts as I develop my ideas and will be able to update readers on my progress. If my journey can influence some of my peers to work in a similar way in care homes, I will be even more delighted!
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