Daily dental care is essential. Plaque can place teeth and gums at risk if not brushed and flossed daily. Brushing twice a day, flossing every day and seeing the dentist regularly is all part of a dental clean routine to maintain good dental health. But for many older adults and people with special care needs, daily dental care may be difficult and requires the help from a caregiver.
As a caregiver, it may be a challenge to help a person with a developmental disability or an older adult with their daily dental care. This requires patience, skill and practice to make it work for the caregiver and the person they are caring for. With daily dental care and regular visits to the dentist, older adults and people with special care needs can maintain good dental health. Below are helpful tips to make daily dental care easier for caregivers.
People who can brush and clean between their teeth but need help.
Some people may need to be shown how to brush and clean between their teeth.
Try the “tell-show-do” approach:
- Tell the person how you will help them with brushing and flossing and what it might feel like.
- Show the person how you’re going to do each step before you do it.
- Do the steps in the same way that you’ve explained them.
Provide a toothbrush with a handle that is easier to hold.
- Some toothbrush companies make toothbrushes with easy grip handles. You can also wrap a small washcloth around the handle secured with a rubber band. If the toothbrush handle needs to be bigger, cut a small slit on the side of a tennis ball and slide it onto the handle of the toothbrush.
- A powered toothbrush may make brushing easier. Help guide the toothbrush gently over their teeth until they are comfortable using it on their own.
Make it easy to clean between their teeth.
- Floss holders, tiny toothbrushes and water jets are tools that can make it easier to floss daily. Make sure to provide step-by-step guidance. Click here for a guide on flossing for caregivers.
People who need complete daily dental care.
Here are a few dental care tips if the person you care for is unable to brush or floss on their own.
- Choose a location that may be more comfortable for you and the person you care for, such as the dining room. Make sure you have plenty of light to see inside the person’s mouth.
- Place your body in a position to sit or stand safely where you can see the surfaces of the teeth.
- Wash your hands and put on disposable gloves.
- Use a regular or powered toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Use a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste and gently brush the front, back, and top of each tooth, using short strokes.
- Gently brush the tongue after you brush the teeth.
- Prevent accidental biting. Use the large handle of one toothbrush to rest the person’s teeth on while brushing with another toothbrush. You can also use a mouth foam rest.
- Some older adults and people with special care needs may have difficulties swallowing. Try brushing their teeth with water. Help the person rinse or use a small clean cloth to clean their mouth.
- Use flossing tools such as dental floss holders, flossing sticks, and tiny toothbrushes to make it easier to clean between teeth.
Regular dental visits are important for the person you are caring for.
- Regular teeth cleaning by a dentist is part of preventive dental care.
- Dental checkups can help identify problems before they cause unnecessary pain.
- Caregivers can seek dental care advice from a dentist.
Additional caregiver tips.
- Give the person you care for time to adjust to a dental care routine.
- Provide positive feedback often to reinforce good behavior.
- Be creative and try to solve dental care problems based on the needs of the person you care for.
- Removable partial or full dentures require proper care. Click here for tips to help keep dentures clean.
The Orange County Local Oral Health Program team would like to thank all the caregivers that make it possible for people who need help with daily dental care, maintain good dental health.
Dental care resources for caregivers.
- The Caregivers Guide to Dental Health. Dental care steps when caring for an older adult from the ADA.
- Dental Care Every Day. A caregiver’s guide to practical oral care for people with disabilities from the NIDCR.
- Oral Health and Older Adults. Information for caregivers on brushing for older adults from the NIH.
- Smile Habits OC. Oral health information to help maintain good oral health and resources to find a dentist, and get help paying for dental care.