Caring for Aging Parents

Caring for Others & their Oral Health[1]

As are many other Americans, many of our patients are now caring for their aging parents.  Some of these techniques can also be incorporated when caring for infants and toddlers.

Daily Mouth Care

Some people may need only to be talked to or shown how to brush and clean between their teeth. Others might need you to take care of their oral hygiene completely.

You may need to adapt the standard routine on the basis of the individual needs of the person you are helping. For example, some people may find it difficult to hold or use a traditional toothbrush. They might do better with a powered toothbrush. For someone who has trouble rinsing or has swallowing problems, try using a toothbrush moistened only with water.1[2] And although cleaning between teeth may be challenging, there are a number of “interdental cleaners” that may make this task easier such as pre-threaded flossers, tiny brushes that reach between the teeth, water flossers, and wooden plaque removers, as well as dental floss.

Here are some tips for providing hands-on care2  3:

The National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests trying a “tell-show-do” approach: Tell the person how you’ll help him or her brush and what it might feel like. Show how you’re going to do each step before you do it. Do the steps in the same way that you’ve explained them.  (Personal Note: Having worked with an Alzheimer parent – including the person in all of the activities and conversations resulted in a better experience)

Before you begin, prepare the work area. You don’t necessarily have to use the bathroom for this activity. Set up wherever you and the person you’re caring for will be comfortable. Have all the things you’ll need within easy reach: toothpaste, a toothbrush, an interdental cleaner, a glass of water, and a bowl to spit into.

Have the person sit up (or raise the head of the bed), and drape a towel over his or her chest.

Wash your hands then put on disposable gloves.

When you are ready, place a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the moistened brush and brush each tooth surface, using short (tooth wide) strokes.

Help the person you are assisting to rinse with plain water, if possible. If there’s a risk of choking, such as a swallowing problem, you can swab the mouth gently with moistened gauze, wet tooth brush or a soft cloth.

Clean between all teeth that touch, using an interdental product as directed.

The dentist may recommend an oral rinse. If so, have the person you care for swish and spit the rinse out, as directed by the dentist.  Or apply a small amount on the person’s teeth and gums with a small oral sponge – if rinsing isn’t an option.

People who wear dentures need daily oral care, too. Full or Partial Dentures should be cleaned twice a day and stored in a cup of water when they are not being worn. Any removable full or partial dentures should be taken out before sleeping. Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about the best way to care for dentures and how best to clean the mouth of the person you’re caring for.

[1] Journal of the American Dental Association

[2] National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Practical oral care for people with disabilities: dental care every day—a caregiver’s guide

3 American Dental Association. The caregiver’s guide to dental health.

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