February 19, 2016
Most people can agree taking care of your mouth is very important, but how much maintenance is required if you are not eating or drinking anything? Regular cleaning is essential for everyone, regardless of food and drink intake. Poor oral health can lead to problems with mouth pain, infection of the gums (Periodontitis), and tooth loss (1). Good oral health begins with brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing teeth once daily, and attending regular checkups with the dentist. If you or the person you are caring for has a disability, it may be difficult to brush, floss and go to regular dental appointments. However, there are ways to modify the tools used for brushing, flossing and dental visits to make good oral health easier.
There are several adaptive devices that can be used to make brushing teeth easier by making the toothbrush itself easier to hold. These include: a rubber band to attach the toothbrush handle to the hand, a tennis ball with hole for the toothbrush handle, the strap that is used to aid with eating utensils, or even sliding a bicycle handle over the toothbrush handle. Sometimes further assistance is needed, and guiding the person’s hands while they are brushing their teeth by placing your hand over theirs may provide additional help (1). If you are brushing someone else’s teeth, sometimes changing where and how you sit or stand may make it easier to provide oral care safely for both you and the person you are assisting. Sitting or standing behind the person makes it easier for brushing and flossing assistance than trying to face the person and assisting in their oral care. Using the approach, “show,” “tell,” then “do,” when cleaning another person’s teeth may make the experience less stressful and increase trust (1).
Flossing teeth, once daily after brushing, cleans plaque in between teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on the teeth, and if left on the teeth, over time, plaque can cause tooth decay and damage to the tooth roots. Flossing in between teeth removes plaque in between teeth and under the gum line. If holding floss is difficult, sometimes a holder for dental floss makes flossing teeth much easier (1). Lastly, the final step for good oral care is regular dentist visits. Visiting the dentist can be stressful and scary for some individuals. Bright lights, loud noises, getting into the dentist’s chair, and the use of water for dental procedures can all contribute to making a visit to the dentist over stimulating and scary for many people. Visiting the dentist’s office prior to cleaning and procedures may help with lessening fears. Scheduling dental appointments earlier in the day may also be less stimulating, and dental staff are more alert. Sometimes holding a favorite toy or listening to soothing music may also provide comfort for the person (2, 3, 4, 5).
- Dental Care Every Day: A Caregiver’s Guide; NIH Publication No 12-5191, February 2012
- Practical Oral Care for People With Down Syndrome; National Institute of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, NIH Publication No.09-5193 July 2009.
- Practical Oral Care for People With Intellectual Disability; National Institute of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, NIH Publication No. 09-5194 July 2009
- Practical Oral Care for People With Autism; National Institute of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, NIH Publication No. 09-5190 July 2009
- Practical Oral Care for People With Cerebral Palsy, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, NIH Publication No. 09-5192
Author is Suzanne Baily-Yin, RD, CD, CNSC