The role of biobehavioral, environmental, and social forces on oral health disparities in frail and functionally dependent nursing home elders

Rita A. Jablonski, Cindy L. Munro, Mary Jo Grap, Ronald K. Elswick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article is to review the literature on and discuss how interactions between bio-behavioral aging, nursing home environments, and social forces shaping current health care policies have contributed to oral health disparities in frail and functionally dependent elders who reside in nursing homes. Emerging empirical evidence suggests links between poor oral health with dental plaque deposition and systemic disease, such as nursing home-acquired pneumonia. The majority of nursing home residents lack either the functional ability or the mental capacity to perform their own mouth care and therefore must rely on others to perform mouth care for them. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs), who provide the majority of care activities, were unsure how to provide care to residents who engaged in care-resistive behaviors. The nurses who supervise the CNAs have limited knowledge regarding the provision of mouth care in general, and they specifically lack knowledge regarding the provision of mouth care to elders exhibiting care-resistant behavior. Elders in nursing homes have limited options when paying for dental care; Medicare does not generally cover routine dental care. Medicaid coverage varies widely between individual states; even when coverage exists, low Medicaid reimbursements discourage dentists from accepting Medicaid patients. The strategies needed to reduce these oral health disparities are complicated but not unrealistic. Investigators willing to embrace this cause will have no shortage of opportunities to test methods to improve the delivery of oral care as well as to monitor and reassess these methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Research For Nursing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2005
Externally publishedYes



  • Cognitive impairment
  • Elders
  • Functional status
  • Health disparities
  • Nursing homes
  • Oral health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory

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