BlogWhether you're caring for an elderly parent, a loved one who is injured, or a family member who is ill or has special needs, there are steps you can take to help them smile.
The mouth is the gateway to the body. Good oral hygiene helps prevents tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Clinical studies have linked periodontal disease to stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other serious health problems. A healthy mouth lets people eat more easily, feel more confident about their appearance, and hopefully avoid tooth pain and tooth loss.
While these tips focus on at-home dental care for the elderly or special-needs patient, it’s very important for the caregiver to ensure the person also visits a dentist for regular appointments. Only a dentist can evaluate the condition of the person's mouth and provide a thorough teeth cleaning or denture analysis.
Oral Care for the Elderly
There are many reasons why someone who is elderly may not be able to easily brush his or her teeth anymore. If the person has arthritis or another health condition, it may be difficult for the person to hold a toothbrush. If the person has dementia, the person may not remember how to brush or floss. Experts recommend using a Tell-Show-Do approach. First, use a soothing voice to explain what that the person is going to brush his or her teeth in order to keep their teeth healthy. Then, demonstrate using your own toothbrush how the person should brush.
After you've modeled the behavior, give the person his/her toothbrush with a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste already on it. You may want to gently place your hand over the other person’s hand and guide the actions at first, and talk them through what's expected. Be sure to use clear, simple directions, such as, "Hold your toothbrush, now put it in your mouth on the side closest to me. Move it back and forth; that's right. Now get your back teeth. Now get your top teeth. Now let's do the other side." To learn how to do this, ask your dentist.
10 Dental Care Tips for Caregivers
Here are ten dental care tips for caregivers helping someone who may have trouble taking care of his or her own oral health.
- Establish a routine. Having an established routine can reduce anxiety and increase compliance. Make it part of their routine to brush teeth after breakfast and before going to bed. Playing the person’s favorite music may help make it more enjoyable.
- Make it easy. Place a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush before giving it to the person.
- Use a power toothbrush. If the person has trouble holding a skinny, manual toothbrush, try using a power toothbrush instead. A power toothbrush requires less dexterity. The user simply needs to guide the power toothbrush along the surfaces of the teeth and the rotating bristles will remove the food and bacteria. There are several types available in dental offices and in stores. Coast Dental recommends the InteliSonic toothbrush and the Revolation toothbrush. Ask your dentist which is the best type to use for your loved one’s specific needs.
- Floss daily. Use a floss holder, floss pick, or an oral irrigator (water pik). If the person doesn’t have the dexterity to floss his or her own teeth, the caregiver can floss the teeth, just like a hygienist does at the dental office. Ask your dentist or hygienist to demonstrate the technique.
- Rinse dentures after every meal. This is as easy as it sounds. Simply rinse the partial or complete denture with water after every meal, and then insert back into the mouth.
- Clean dentures daily. If you're taking care of someone with a denture or partial denture, be sure to remove it and clean it every night according to the directions your dentist gave you. Leaving a denture or partial in the mouth overnight can cause bacteria and mouth sores. And remember: Even denture-wearers still need to brush. After the denture is removed, use a soft-bristled toothbrush or gauze to wipe the gums and tongue, and have the person swish with water or mouthwash, then spit.
- Know medication side effects. Many medications that help common problems like high blood pressure, allergies, heart disease, and depression can lead to dry mouth. That means the mouth is not producing as much saliva as it should to wash away bacteria, which makes people more prone to tooth decay (cavities). Bring the dentist a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medication being taken, and the contact information for the patient’s medical doctor. The good news is that dry mouth can be treated easily.
- Consider MI Paste. MI Paste is like vitamins for the teeth. It provides minerals such as calcium and phosphate that strengthen the teeth and protect the enamel. It reduces dental erosion caused by acids in soda, sport drinks, alcohol, and food. It also reduces dental erosion caused by gastric reflux or nausea associated with morning sickness and chemotherapy. It can be used by people of all ages, and is often recommended for seniors. Some types of MI Paste contain fluoride, which can be particularly beneficial for children.
- Eat right. You might not think this of this under dental care, but nutrition plays a very important role in keeping teeth healthy. Food, beverages, even medication can contain sugar, and sugar causes cavities. Reducing soda, sport drinks, and sweets can help keep teeth in good condition. A healthy diet combined with proper hygiene (brushing, flossing, and regular dental office visits) will provide the best defense against cavities.
- Swish with water or mouthwash. Caregivers providing dental care may not think of this, but it’s important. If the person can spit, have them use the recommended amount of mouthwash and swish and spit into a sink or cup. If the person is not be able to spit, the person may be able to swish with a small amount of water, and then swallow. That will help wash away bacteria-causing bacteria.
Providing dental care for senior citizens, children, or anyone who is injured or sick requires patience and dedication. Fortunately, caregivers have a wonderful resource right in their communities: dentists. Make an appointment to bring your loved one to the dentist for a thorough exam and diagnosis, and make a plan for providing the best dental care possible.