OBJECTIVES: This review paper discusses the need for an educational component of a preventive oral health care program in geriatric institutions. The content of an education component that can improve the awareness of health care professionals in geriatric institutions with respect to the positive relationship of good oral health to good general health, thereby motivating them to provide adequate oral care, is investigated.
METHODS: A literature review was conducted of the following areas: dental health education in nurse training; dental care for the elderly; prevention of dental caries, periodontal diseases and oral cancer; oral hygiene; nursing homes; long-term care facilities, and homes for the aged. The search was conducted through Medline from 1966 to 1998.
RESULTS: Overall, there is little information and agreement about the content and structure of oral health education programs in geriatric institutions, although information exists with respect to the effectiveness of methods of oral hygiene and the efficacy of oral care agents. The oral health care needs of the institutionalized elderly are not being met due to health care professionals’ demanding workload, a lack of knowledge of the importance of oral health care and apathy, or lack of interest, towards the practical application of oral health care principles.
CONCLUSIONS: There is a need to educate all stakeholder groups, including health care professionals, in the importance of mouth care for elderly clients. Dental professionals working in geriatric care should address this need by implementing a preventive oral health care program consisting, not only of examinations and preventive care, but also of an educational component for the allied health care professionals and members of the patient’s family. The ultimate goal is for the medical and dental professionals and caregivers to collaborate with an integrated approach to preventing oral disease, thereby improving overall health and quality of life for the institutionalized elderly.