Objective: To present a theoretical model for understanding oral health care for the elderly in the context of long-term care institutions (LTCI).
Methods: Open-ended individual interviews were conducted with the elderly residing in LTCI, their carers, nursing technicians and nurses, directors of care, dental surgeons and managers of public health services. A grounded theory methodological approach was adopted for data collection and analysis.
Results: The emerging core category revealed a basic social process: 'Promoting oral health care for the elderly based on the context of LTCI'. This process was composed of two contradicting yet correlated aspects: the oral health care does not minimise the poor oral epidemiological condition, and at the same time, there was a continued improvement in the oral care expressed by better care practices. These aspects were related to the: attribution of meaning to oral health, social determination of oral health, the ageing process, interactions established in the oral health care practices, oral health care management in LTCI, inclusion of oral health care into the political-organisational dimension and possibility of conjecturing better oral health care practices.
Conclusion: The core concept of 'Promotion of oral health care for elderly people based on the context of LTCI' is capable of explaining the variations in the structure and process of LTCI, as well as in helping to understand the meaning of the oral health care practices for the institutionalised elderly.