Caregivers' Guide to Dental Health
By: Ellen Leslie, Registered Dental Hygienist
When you are a family healthcare provider at home or in a care facility with your loved one, you have a lot on your mind. Doctor appointments, medications, and your loved ones' comfort can seem more urgent than the person's oral health. It's important to remind caregivers to make sure the patient's oral health is not neglected.
Keeping the mouth and teeth clean can prevent sensitivity or pain in the patient's mouth. Good oral hygiene is essential for a patient's comfort, safety, and self-esteem, no matter the situation. Broken, missing, decayed teeth can cause a patient pain and can cause them to avoid eating or drinking. Broken or ill-fitting partials or dentures can make swallowing difficult or can cause pain.
Numerous health issues can play a part in how much care your loved one may need. Some have physical difficulties that make it challenging to hold a toothbrush. Some have memory problems and forget to brush and floss. Some have dementia and need someone to take care of their teeth and help them visit a dentist regularly. If your loved one is in a long-term health care facility, ask about the dental care available or who would be giving the daily dental hygiene care. It is important to inquire if they are adequately trained. Whatever the case may be, making sure your loved one has a daily oral health care routine and has regular visits to the dentist is essential.
Daily Oral Health Care Steps as a Family Healthcare Provider:
- Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. If you are the one doing the brushing, this is the easiest way to spot a problem in the mouth early on and can result in the best outcome for treatment before more significant issues arise.
- Clean in between the teeth with floss, a floss pick, or a water flosser. If your loved one has dentures or partials, rinse them after meals, clean them daily with denture cleaner and a soft denture brush, take them out before bed, and place them in water overnight. Doing this daily will keep food and debris from getting trapped under the denture, which may cause sores on the gum tissue, and keep the appliance clean.
- Limit snacking and sugary drinks. Healthy foods are good for the mouth and body while also helping keep your loved ones' cavity risk down. Sugary drinks and frequent snacking will cause the bacteria in the mouth to increase, thus increasing the patient's risk of getting a cavity.
- Using a fluoride rinse or gel daily will provide additional protection for their teeth.
- If your loved one complains about dry mouth, you can try several commercial mouth rinses made for dry mouth. Having your patient sipping on water or ice chips can also help.
- Take your loved one to regular dental appointments to have their teeth examined and cleaned regularly--even if they have dentures or partials. It's important to have the dentures and oral tissue examined to ensure no sore areas on the tissue or a crack in the denture.
- Watch for symptoms that could be a result of a larger issue. Some medications may cause dry mouth, and some can cause a patient to develop a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans, better known as "Thrush." Some patients will have a complaint they are having difficulty chewing or swallowing. If your loved one has a new symptom, do not hesitate to have that checked out with a dentist.
The support you can give your loved one as a family caregiver is important. The support and daily care you provide, along with the professional care of a dentist, will give your loved one the best chance for a healthy mouth.