If you’re one of the 44 million family caregivers in the United States, you’ve got a lot on your mind. However, keeping your loved one’s mouth healthy is important for their dental health, overall health and so much more.
“It’s also about comfort, safety and self-esteem,” says ADA dentist Dr. Judith Jones. “Keeping your mouth and teeth clean can prevent sensitivity or pain in your teeth. In terms of safety, there might be broken teeth, broken partials or unsafe partials they can swallow. And for their self-esteem, it’s important for individuals to have a sense of pride in their appearance and to have good hygiene.”
How much help you give will depend on the individual. If the person in your care can do the basics, let them. Some adults may have physical issues that make them unable to hold a toothbrush. Others may have memory issues, so they forget to brush and floss. People with dementia may need someone to clean their teeth each day and take them to a dentist.
No matter your situation, daily care plus professional care equal the best chances for a healthy mouth. Here are some important mouth care steps for older adults.
You may have questions specific to your own situation, so here are some starting points for different types of care cases. And always feel free to speak with your dentist or your loved one’s dentist for more advice.
Many older adults can care for their own mouths on a daily basis but may still benefit from your support. In these cases, here are some ways you can support their mouth care routine:
Still, keep an eye on your loved one and his ability to care for his mouth. “It really is important to get every side of every tooth,” Dr. Jones says. “If your loved one is no longer capable of taking care of his teeth then develop a routine where you can help do it for them.”
Adults who are unable or unwilling to care for their mouths may need your help. Until you get comfortable with each other, be patient. Always treat the person compassionately, as you would want to be treated.
Being efficient and effective is the name of the game. “When brushing someone else’s teeth, I recommend a soft toothbrush,” Dr. Jones says. “If somebody has three teeth it might only take 30 seconds to brush those teeth. However, additional time will be need to brush their partials or dentures.”
For cleaning between their teeth, picks or pre-threaded flossers can help. If you find those or other interdental cleaners too difficult to use, a water flosser may help because it won’t require you putting your hands in your loved one’s mouth.
Here are a few tips to get started:
You may also need to be flexible if your loved one resists. Try a different time of day and point out that mouth care will help their smile look and feel better. “Sometimes the traditional times are not the best times to get it done,” she says. “If it’s difficult brushing during more traditional morning and night times, then try it after lunch but before their afternoon nap.”
If your loved one continues to resist brushing, it may be because they are experiencing pain or have a dental need. See if they can communicate the issue to you. If not, call the dentist to explain the situation and see if an appointment is needed.
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