Are you taking care of someone who is disabled or elderly? While it might seem challenging at first to support their dental health, this is a critical component to an individual’s wellbeing. With the right care, your loved one can have a pain-free mouth, strong teeth and gums, and greater comfort and confidence.
To help you navigate the process of taking care of someone else’s dental health, we’ve compiled a few tips below.
Let’s Start with the Basics
As a caregiver, there are a few basic steps that you can follow to help ensure the oral health of your loved one:
Be sure that they are brushing their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day for two minutes at a time. After brushing, flossing will help clean debris from between the teeth, so it’s best to floss at least once a day.
In the event that your loved one has trouble holding their toothbrush, you could recommend that they switch to an electric toothbrush with a thicker handle, or they could use a Velcro strap to help hold the brush in their hand.
If your loved one is able to brush and floss on their own, simply talking about their oral hygiene routine could help you rest assured that they’re taking care of themselves. However, if you need to brush and floss their teeth because they can’t do it themselves, start by having them sit up in a chair. Then, after draping a towel over their chest, hold their chin gently and explain what you’re doing as you brush their teeth and tongue (if they’re sensitive to toothpaste for any reason, you can just brush with water). Then, when it’s time to floss, it might be easier to use a water flosser or a floss holder, rather than using your fingers. See, not so bad, right?
If an individual wears dentures, it’s recommended that you rinse them off after every meal. On top of that, it’s best to remove and clean them daily, even if they’re partial dentures.
Experts recommend cleaning dentures every morning and every night. Carefully brush them clean at night before storing them in a cup filled with a denture cleaning solution. In the morning, you can rinse them off before helping your loved one put them back in their mouth.
Note: It’s a good idea to make sure the person you’re caring for naps without dentures in their mouth. Otherwise, there’s the risk of the dentures coming out of place and becoming a choking hazard. How scary is that?!
Try to encourage them to eat healthy and to reduce their intake of sugary beverages and sugary snacks that might contribute to tooth decay. A few good examples of foods that could contribute to healthier teeth and gums are fresh fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, and foods that are rich in calcium.
Individuals who are taking certain medications might end up with dry mouth as a side effect. You could help them combat this uncomfortable problem by providing them with an alcohol-free mouthwash that contains xylitol. Using a humidifier at night might be helpful, too, as could sugar-free gum or candy.
Make appointments for your loved one to visit the dentist for cleanings, checkups, and treatments, even if they wear dentures.
Try to Spot Oral Health Problems That Need Treatment
In addition to helping someone with their oral hygiene routine every day, it is also recommended that you keep an eye out for problems that would need to be addressed by a dentist as soon as possible. These ailments include:
Teeth that are broken or loose
Cheeks, gums, or lips that are swollen
Dentures that are broken or no longer fit well
Lumps, lesions, or pus anywhere in the mouth
Difficulty chewing or swallowing
Pain or sensitivity anywhere in the mouth
What About Individuals in Long-Term Care Facilities?
When someone you love needs to go into a long-term care facility, it’s a great idea to talk to the staff about the dental care that they’ll be able to provide. Understanding what their protocols are for both routine and emergency dental care could help put your mind at ease. Whether a dentist will be available in the facility or the staff will take care of getting them to checkups, these are good indicators that the facility takes dental health seriously—and you definitely want that!
For Expert Guidance, Ask a Dentist!
Seeing a dentist won’t only benefit your loved one; it could also be a valuable opportunity for you to ask for expert, personalized guidance and advice on how to maintain their oral health and hygiene. Provide the dentist with the individual’s dental history, medical records, and insurance information, and feel free to ask about the best products that you can use to keep their teeth and gums clean and strong.
Looking after someone who is elderly or disabled could certainly be daunting, especially when it comes to dental care. Once you get into the swing of things, though, you might find that it’s easier than you thought, and you’ll feel wonderful knowing that you’re doing what you can to help maintain the lovely smile that you know so well.