November is National Family Caregivers Month. Being a caregiver is one of the most challenging roles in the world. If you’re responsible for a family member, you know just how important you are to your loved one’s care and comfort.
With the many medical concerns and day-to-day issues, dental maintenance can take a backseat. However, preventive oral care is incredibly important to systemic health, so it’s essential to the patient’s wellbeing.
In particular, poor oral health is linked to many of the illnesses and diseases that afflict our senior population. Diabetes, heart disease, dementia and arthritis have all been linked to poor oral care or gum disease (periodontitis). In one recent study, Alzheimer’s patients with gum disease showed higher rates of cognitive decline.
Brushing and flossing seem simple, but they become more difficult when patients have trouble with fine motor skills. A larger toothbrush handle can be helpful, such as those on electric brushes. Use a soft-bristled brush with only the minimum toothpaste needed.
For some patients, supervision or assistance may be necessary. This is especially true if your family member struggles with memory problems. Try covering the patient’s hand with your own, and starting the brushing motion, to jog their muscle memory.
If you take care of the brushing and flossing for your loved one, try having your family member sit on a chair. Standing behind them will make it much easier to reach all the teeth.
Here are some additional tips and advice for caregivers:
- Prescription medications can cause dry mouth. If this is a problem for your family member, talk to our clinical staff about ADA-approved products that can help.
- Stay on a regular schedule of dental visits. Consistency makes a profound difference in preventing serious problems.
- Check with our office staff to make sure they have your email and phone numbers on file. That way, appointment reminders go to you instead of the patient.
- You might be surprised how many medical conditions affect a patient’s oral health, from osteoporosis to respiratory diseases. Be sure to inform our staff of any new health issues that arise, even if they seem irrelevant.
- Patients who struggle with speech or memory may not be able to communicate their dental problems. Look for signs such as: rubbing or touching the cheek or jaw; poor sleep; and flinching during shaving or face washing.
- Using a basin or the kitchen sink may be easier than handling dental care in the bathroom.