Brushing Teeth

Family Caregiver Tips from Give a Care | Brushing Teeth

Brushing teeth, simple enough right? Not always. There are a few ways to approach the teeth brushing topic for family caregivers depending on your situation:

  1. You take care of an able-bodied parent, child or loved one and they require little to no assistance with teeth brushing (or cleaning their dentures).
  2. You take care of a parent, child or loved one who can clean their own teeth but require some assistance.
  3. You take care of someone young or old for whom you physically need to brush their teeth.

With Mom, we’re in boat 3, so I’m speaking specifically to helpful tips and tricks we have picked up when it comes to brushing her teeth for her. But, you might find some of them helpful for your own situation, so read on!

BEST thing we ever did when it came to keeping Mom’s mouth clean . . . electric toothbrush! Seriously, let your toothbrush do some of the work for you. They are not super loud or jarring (and if they are, make sure the brush head is screwed on correctly), and the vibrations can feel good on the gums. Of course I still move the toothbrush back and forth and around her teeth and on her tongue, but the electric toothbrush does some of the work too and comes with a timer so we know when 2 minutes of brushing is complete. Do we always go the full 2 minutes? Ha! Nice try. But still, the timer is helpful.

Do we floss? No. We used to, but then we decided to, well, “pick our battles.” We do have some of those little individual flosser tools handy just in case she has something really lodged in her teeth, but since she is on a fully pureed dysphagia diet, that is rare. Flossing another person’s teeth, especially if they’re not great about holding their mouth open can be SUPER difficult. So that brings us to . . . mouth rinse!

We actually didn’t mouth rinse very much before Mom’s speech pathologist recommended it, but now we do every night. Not only does 30 seconds with Listerine help clean places in Mom’s mouth the toothbrush didn’t get, but it’s killing bacteria too. And for someone who has chronic pneumonia, killing any bacteria that Mom might swallow and get in her lungs is always a good idea.

So do we have any trouble with the brushing and rinsing? You know we do. For someone like Mom which primary progressive MS, we are literally trying to get someone whose brain can rarely get messages sent to her body, to open and close her mouth, and spit. We have a handful of tricks that seem to help though:

  1. Do the same thing every time! Habits seem to stick. Every single night we brush teeth the same exact way, no question. Mom knows what’s coming when I ask her “ready to brush teeth?!” every night. We always brush, rinse twice with water, and then do a Listerine rinse.
  2. Count! We count the full 30 seconds she rinses with Listerine out loud so she knows the end is coming and her brain is queued up to spit.
  3. Count again! If she gets confused or the signals are crossed in her brain and she doesn’t spit out, we do a smaller count again, but this time backwards, so it sounds like a real countdown. “3 . . 2 . . 1, spit!” This surprisingly seems to work almost every time.
  4. Use gentle pressure! If Mom has a mouthful of rinse or water and simply can’t figure out how to spit it out, we use gentle pressure to send feedback to her brain – simply squishing the sides of her cheeks to help her purse her lips to spit works sometimes, or opening her lips a little so the spit starts to come out. We also have a suction device (Yankeur) now that can help get excess saliva or rinse out of her mouth.

Thanks for checking out these oral hygiene tips and best practices from Give a Care. What other tips do you have for helping someone get their teeth clean? We know it can be a daily struggle, any and all ideas are welcome!

One thought on “Brushing Teeth

  1. The bathroom is not the only choice for brushing teeth. A basin on a table or the kitchen sink might work better. It also doesn’t have to be the last thing at night before bed or the first thing in the morning. Find a time when both you and the person for whom you are caring are calm and have time to devote to the task.  

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