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Dental and Oral Health (Adults)

Don't Let a Disability Keep the Dentist Away

People with disabilities may tend to shy away from the dentist's office. But it's important for a person with a disability to take an active part in his own dental care. And developing healthy dental habits - habits that help prevent disease - are key.

Healthy teeth and gums are extremely important to a person's overall health. So it's critical to take the necessary preventive steps to keep mouth and gum disease at bay. If a person with a disability needs help from a caregiver, that caregiver should be familiar with the person's daily dental routine.

If a person with a disability has a disease of the mouth or gums, he or she should see the dentist based on how severe the disease is, and not let his disability keep him or her from seeking proper dental care.

Finally, taking care of the entire body by eating the right foods is part of the plan for healthy teeth and gums!

Routine Oral Hygiene Recommendations:

    1. Brush teeth after each meal and before bedtime. Toothbrush handles can be modified in numerous ways for people with arm and hand limitations. For example:

    Using an electric toothbrush may be a better choice in certain situations. Caregivers should learn from dentists how to properly use an electric toothbrush when taking care of someone else's teeth.

    2. Use a toothpaste with fluoride, if you use toothpaste. Brushing teeth with water may be the best bet for a person with a disability, especially if a caregiver cannot see inside the mouth, or if the person gags on the toothpaste. Supplement water-brushing with brush-on home fluoride treatments, or brush with a fluoride gel.
    3. Floss every day. Daily flossing may be impractical for many people with disabilities. Flossing may require help of a second person if the patient has a severe disability or can't use his arms or hands. A floss holder may help in these cases.
    4. Patients with plaque build-up may want to use a prescription plaque remover. There are also products available that reveal plaque build-up before and after brushing. Anti-plaque products may help manage gum and other dental diseases. Carefully follow the directions when using an anti-plaque product - they should not be swallowed.
    5. A person needs a fluoride treatment when he or she has a number of cavities or when his mouth is extremely dry. Dry mouth (called "xerostomia") could be caused by medications or by disease. Dentists usually apply fluoride treatments during regular checkups. At-home fluoride treatments are also available.
    6. If dry mouth is a problem, a patient may want to try an artificial saliva product. Saliva is a natural teeth cleanser. People with enough moisture in their mouth are at less risk for dental disease. Drink lots of water. Sugarless hard candies or sugarless gum may also help to control dry mouth. In certain situations medication may be prescribed to make the mouth produce more saliva.
    7. To help manage sore mouth, use an over-the-counter topical painkiller or ask your dentist for a prescription medication.
    8. Tip for fast and easy teeth cleaning: Dissolve 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. baking soda in a glass of water. Swish the solution in the mouth, then spit it out. People at risk for high blood pressure or those on low-sodium diets should ask their doctor before using this mixture.

Caregivers Need Training

A person with a disability may need help with daily oral hygiene. It is important that the caregiver learn the how-to's from dental professionals. If necessary, caregivers can also make daily dental care easier for the patient by supporting that patient with a pillow, bean bags, and other devices that can help stabilize the person.

During periodic oral examinations the dentist should also check for oral cancer. If a person with a disability is unable to examine his or her mouth, a caregiver may be taught to look for abnormal oral conditions.

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Last Reviewed: Oct 30, 2007

Daniel E Jolly, BA, DDS, FAAHD, FACD, FAGD Daniel E Jolly, BA, DDS, FAAHD, FACD, FAGD
Former Professor of Clinical Dentistry
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University