As a family caregiver it’s important to remember a healthy mouth can help the person you care for enjoy food, chew better, eat well, and avoid pain and tooth loss. Some older adults need to be reminded to brush and floss teeth. Others may need help actually getting it done.
Make sure the person you care for:
- Brushes twice a day with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Uses a toothbrush with a small head, which makes it easier to clean around the back teeth.
- Angles the bristles toward the gumline so they clean between the gums and teeth.
- Brushes gently using small circular motions.
- Brushes all sides of each tooth.
- Brushes the tongue
If the person you care for can brush but needs some help or guidance:
- Encourage self-care.
If the person you care for has problems with memory or judgment, he or she might need reminders. For example, leave the toothbrush and toothpaste on the sink. Or, apply toothpaste and hand them the toothbrush, or brush your teeth at the same time.
- Encourage thorough brushing.
Thorough brushing and flossing are essential for removing dental plaque, a sticky film of bacteria. Plaque buildup can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
- Guide the toothbrush.
Help brush by placing your hand very gently over the person’s hand and guiding the toothbrush.
- Adapt the toothbrush or try different types of toothbrushes.
Make the toothbrush easier to use or try a power or multiple-sided toothbrush (see next page)
If the person you care for is unable to brush, you need to brush his or her teeth:
- Wash your hands and wear disposable gloves.
- Gently remove dentures or partials.
- Check between the teeth and cheeks for bits of food, swiping the area with a gloved finger or damp gauze.
- Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste. If toothpaste bothers your care recipient, brush with water instead.
- Place the toothbrush bristles at an angle toward the gumline so they clean between the gums and teeth.
- Be sure to brush the teeth on all sides using small circular motions, then brush the tongue.
- If the person you care for cannot rinse, give a drink of water or sweep the mouth with a finger wrapped in damp gauze.
If the person you are for has dementia or memory loss watch this video:
Flossing removes dental plaque between teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach. If not removed, dental plaque can build up and cause tooth decay and gum disease. If the person you care for can floss, here are the steps he or she should follow:
- Use a string of floss about two feet long. Wrap that piece around the middle finger of each hand.
- Grip the floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand.
- Ease the floss gently between the teeth until it reaches the gumline. (Don’t ‘snap’ or force the floss into place — this could harm the gums.)
- Curve the floss like the letter “C” around each tooth, keeping in contact with the side of the tooth. Slide the floss up and down under the gum.
- Do this for both sides of every tooth, one side at a time. Adjust the floss a little as you move from tooth to tooth so the floss is clean for each one.
- Be sure to floss all teeth, including the backs of the last teeth on each side.
- Use flossing tools if needed.
If the person you care for cannot floss, you will need to floss his or her teeth. Here are some suggestions that might be helpful:
- Find a comfortable position for both of you. One of the easiest ways to floss someone else’s teeth is to have him or her lie down on a bed while you kneel or sit alongside.
- Make sure you have floss, flossing tools, and disposable gloves.
- Follow the step-by-step flossing instructions (previous page) and use the flossing tools if needed.
Source: National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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