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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1994 Oct;42(10):1081-6.

Dexterity testing as a predictor of oral care ability.

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  • 1Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dental Service, OR 97207.



To examine a spectrum of elderly people to determine if hand function/dexterity measures can predict oral care ability.


A series of dental, hand function, and dexterity measures were assessed by blinded examiners. Plaque scores were used as the criterion standard to assess plaque removal ability.


A convenience sample of 52, predominately male, elderly patients were recruited from the patient population of the Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center and a community nursing home. Entry into the study required that the patient be able to give consent, be age 65 or older, have a minimum of six contiguous teeth or a minimum of 12 teeth total, be medically stable, have grossly adequate vision, and be able to hear and understand spoken instructions.


The primary outcome measure was plaque score, as defined by the Turesky modification of the Quigley-Hein index. This was related to four dexterity tests (Jebsen-Taylor Hand Function test, Nine-hole Peg test, Box and Block test, Toothbrushing Ability test), a grip strength measure, and a cognitive measure (Allen Cognitive Level Test).


Oral hygiene was significantly impaired among institutionalized elderly compared with outpatient elderly (P < 0.001), as was dexterity (P < 0.001). All dexterity tests correlated significantly with plaque score (Spearman rho: 0.49-0.77; P < 0.000). Forward stepwise regression analysis identified the Toothbrushing Ability Test (P < 0.0001) and the time spent brushing (P = 0.007) as the most significant predictors of plaque score.


Results suggest oral hygiene ability is decreased among long term care residents, that dexterity tests can help identify patients unable to perform adequate oral self-care, and that these tests could be used to estimate brushing ability among elderly compromised patients.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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