Each November during National Family Caregivers Month the nation pays tribute to the 40 million people across the country who support aging parents, ill spouses or other loved ones with disabilities who remain at home. There is no question that the role of caregiver for a senior is challenging.
Dental health is important for seniors but is often neglected until a small issue becomes a major problem.
Here are five things caregivers can do to ensure that their loved one’s teeth are well-cared for.
#1. Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using fluoride toothpaste. If your loved one is able to clean their own teeth, you might just need to provide gentle reminders about brushing. If your loved one is generally tired in the evenings, have them brush in the late afternoon instead.1
Seniors often have trouble holding a toothbrush. Switching to an electric toothbrush, which has a larger handle, may be a good solution. You can also slide a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle of a normal toothbrush or try securing the toothbrush handle to the senior’s hand with a wide elastic band.2
For seniors, especially those with dementia, brushing can be a struggle. Be patient. Play soothing music. Pick a time when your loved one is most cooperative. Brushing may be easier for you if you purchase a children’s toothbrush because the brush head is smaller and the bristles are extra soft, allowing you to maneuver the toothbrush more easily.3
If your loved one has dentures, it is important to also clean them. The American Dental Association recommends brushing dentures at least once a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a nonabrasive denture cleanser.4 Do not use regular toothpaste, as it is too abrasive. Ask your dentist for some recommendations of special cleansers formulated to clean dentures. They will also lift stains and kill odor-causing bacteria that might be missed with brushing alone. Don’t forget to rinse the dentures under running water after cleaning. Don’t use hot water as this can warp dentures. It is recommended that dentures be removed each night to give the gums a rest.
#2. Clean between the teeth daily. It is usually difficult for seniors to use traditional dental floss. Try using between the teeth cleaners such as picks or pre-threaded flossers. If those are still too difficult to use, a water flossing machine may be your best bet. It is important to proceed slowly and calmly and let your loved one know what you are doing every step of the way. Monitor the water temperature, pressure setting and the angle of the nozzle while using the water flosser.5
#3. Combat dry mouth. Medications and aging can reduce the amount of saliva produced in the mouth. Saliva is nature’s way of flushing our teeth so it is important to do what you can to prevent dry mouth and keep seniors hydrated. Using an alcohol-free mouth rinse can help, as can sipping water, sucking (not chewing) on ice chips, and using a humidifier while sleeping.
#4. Limit snacking and sugary drinks. While many believe seniors are entitled to eat what they choose, including healthy doses of sugary snacks and drinks, seniors are at greater risk for tooth decay because of the difficulty of caring for their teeth. A balanced diet is good for the body as well as the teeth.
After seniors consume sugary foods, make sure to have them drink water to flush out food particles and bacteria. If chewing and swallowing are not an issue, try to end every meal with a few orange slices and a few pieces of crisp, raw fruits and vegetables as the acid in the oranges will break down the sugar and starch in their mouth and the crunchy fruits or vegetables will help naturally brush the plaque from their teeth. 7 Follow up with a glass of water to wash away food and bacteria.
#5. See your dentist regularly. This is especially important if you aren’t able to follow recommendations 1 through 4 above. Teeth cleanings and check-ups every couple of months can prevent serious issues. While a person can still cooperate with dental care, get any major dental issues identified and resolved. Establishing a relationship with a dentist can make it easier when a loved one is no longer able to visit the dental office, as the dentist will know the patient and their dental history and can serve as a resource in resolving issues.
Oral care doesn’t stop at teeth, especially Seniors. It includes healthy gums, tissue, and bone care. Please don’t hesitate to ask for assistance if you’re struggling to manage your oral care, or that of an aging loved one. Sedki Dentistry in Commerce Twp MI can help. Dr. Sedki has been helping patients restore and maintain a healthy mouth and smile for 20 years! With a full range of dental services to choose from including cosmetic dentistry and dental treatments, our full-service dental clinic addresses all dental health needs. Call Sedki Dentistry today to schedule a dental check-up beginning with a Free Consultation!
1,6 The Caregiver’s Guide to Dental Health
2Teeth and Mouth Care for Seniors, National Institute on Aging
3,5,7 Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers by Ken Takeya
4 How to Clean Your Dentures