STATEPOINT — For the 44 million family caregivers nationwide, tangible support can help ease their burden. With that in mind, the American Dental Association (ADA) is offering essential oral health tips and information.
“Keeping your loved one’s mouth healthy is important for their oral and overall health, comfort, safety, nutrition and self-esteem,” says Dr. Jane Grover, MPH, director of the ADA’s Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention. “The combination of daily care and professional services equals the best chance for a healthy mouth. It can also help prevent other health problems from arising or becoming worse.”
While the exact assistance you provide your loved one will depend on their individual abilities and situation, there are some important things every caregiver should keep in mind. The following information from the ADA can help get you started:
1. Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using fluoride toothpaste. Floss or use other between-the-teeth cleaners daily. Doing so will help prevent tooth decay (cavities), gum disease and bad breath.
2. If your loved one wears dentures, rinse them after each meal, brush them daily with denture cleaner and take them out and store them in water before bedtime. Try to discourage them from sleeping with their dentures in their mouth overnight, as that habit over time can lead to serious tissue irritation on the roof of their mouth.
3. If your loved one is living with diabetes, pay special attention to their gums and mouth. Not only can gingivitis and dry mouth be signs of untreated diabetes, but research suggests that treating gum disease can actually help control blood sugar levels, decreasing the progression of the disease.
4. Dry mouth can affect older people for a variety of reasons, including being a sign of diabetes and a side effect of certain medications. Dry mouth is not just uncomfortable. It can increase the risk of tooth decay. To combat it, try an alcohol-free mouth rinse and encourage hydration by having your loved one sip water, suck (not chew) on ice chips and use a humidifier while sleeping.
5. Limit snacking and sugary drinks. Encourage the consumption of healthy foods and drinks, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and water, which are good for the mouth and the entire body.
6. Make and keep dental appointments. Even people with dentures need to visit the dentist for an annual oral exam.
7. Watch for symptoms that could signal larger issues. If your loved one shows any of the following signs, visit the dentist:
• Pain or swelling in the mouth, face and neck
• Sores, swelling or growths in the mouth
• A change in the fit of dentures
• Difficulty opening the mouth
• Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums
• Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
• Bad breath that doesn’t go away or becomes a daily concern
• Pus between the teeth and gums
• Dark or discolored spots on teeth
• Loose or broken teeth, partials or dentures
To access free oral health resources, including a caregiver’s guide to dental health, visit mouthhealthy.org.
“Tending to oral hygiene is an important part of caregiving. Managing both daily care and arranging for dental visits can help you keep your loved one healthy and happy,” says Dr. Grover. “And of course, don’t forget your own dental care. Being an effective caregiver starts with ensuring your own health and wellness.”