Approximately 39.8 million Americans are caregivers, providing unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older. Whether you are a caregiver for a parent, spouse, friend or client, helping them maintain a healthy mouth is critical and can help prevent eating difficulties, digestive problems and infections.
If you are caring for someone who is confined to bed, don’t neglect their oral care because bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lungs and cause pneumonia.
If the person in your care has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they may forget how to brush their teeth or forget why it’s important. Look for signs of mouth pain or discomfort during mealtime. Refusing to eat or strained facial expressions while eating may indicate mouth pain or dentures that don’t fit properly.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the focus should be on prevention—getting check-ups and cleaning and flossing teeth regularly. This is the best way to avoid extensive procedures later on, when the person may be less able to tolerate them.
Middle and late-stage Alzheimer’s patients may forget how to brush or rinse and will require specific directions. For example, rather than just directing them to “brush your teeth,” you may need to tell them to “hold your toothbrush,” “put paste on the brush” and brush your teeth.” You can also try a “watch me” approach, showing the person how to hold the brush, etc.
If you have to brush your patient’s teeth, brush at least twice a day, with the last brushing after the evening meal and any nighttime liquid medication. Allow plenty of time and find a comfortable position if you must do the brushing yourself. Gently place the toothbrush in the person’s mouth at a 45 degree angle so you massage gum tissue as you clean the teeth.
Be sure your patient’s dentist has a list of all health care providers who are caring for the person as well as a list of all medications. Certain medications can contribute to dry mouth and other oral health issues.
Dr. Douglas Angell and the dental hygienists at Angell’s Dentistry will be happy to answer any questions you may have as a caregiver. We invite you to visit our website at: www.angellsdentistry.com.