One elderly care issue that can interfere with daily functioning is increased difficulty in manual dexterity. As hand functioning diminishes, you may find your senior having difficulty picking up or holding on to household items, operating small household devices, or securing buttons on articles of clothing.
Changes in hand functioning can result from diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis, injury, changes in metabolism, or simply the decreased activity that so often accompanies aging. Decreased hand functioning can affect your senior’s independence, self-confidence, and ability to care for him- or herself safely. All of these can affect your senior’s ability or motivation to maintain proper oral hygiene.
Additionally, prescription medications can have serious side effects such as dry mouth, tooth decay, and gum disease. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 93% of seniors 65 years of age and older have had some degree of tooth decay in their permanent teeth; 18% of seniors 65 years of age and older have untreated decay. For seniors with loss of mobility or hand dexterity, it can be especially difficult to maintain proper oral hygiene.
Here are five tips for helping your senior experiencing dexterity issues to maintain good oral care.
Use a Rotating or Oscillating Toothbrush.
It may be painful or difficult for seniors with mobility issues to brush their teeth effectively. Using an electronic, rotating, or oscillating toothbrush can alleviate the stress of gripping and manipulating the toothbrush and may increase cleaning effectiveness. Alternatively, toothbrushes designed with wide, flexi-grip handles can be easier to hold.
Minimize Sugar and Use Products That Contain Fluoride.
Foods and drinks that contain high levels of sugar can damage teeth. Ask your doctor if sugar-free medications are available for your elderly loved one. Chewing sugar-free gum and drinking water with fluoride can help prevent tooth decay and avoid dry mouth. There also are fluoride products like daily fluoride mouth rinses or topical applications that can help your senior fight tooth decay.
Clean Between the Teeth Regularly.
Seniors with dexterity difficulty may be unable or disinclined to floss between their teeth using traditional dental floss. Pre-threaded flossers, interdental instruments, or water flossers can make it easier to clean between teeth and remove plaque.
Visit the Dentist More Frequently.
Making more frequent visits to the dentist can assure prompt and proper dental hygiene. Your dentist also will examine your senior for more serious oral conditions like oral cancer and gum disease, which are not always easily detected. It will be important to accompany your senior to dental examinations and procedures to provide comfort and encouragement, minimize stress, and retain accurate treatment instructions for proper senior oral care.
Maintain Proper Denture Care.
If your senior wears dentures, proper oral hygiene is equally important but can be equally difficult when experiencing dexterity or mobility difficulty. Dentures should be cleaned daily with non-abrasive denture-care products or cleansers. Standard toothpaste can be abrasive and may damage dentures, which can be expensive to repair or replace.
Seniors should follow their dentist’s instructions for proper fitting and use. If possible, dentures should be removed from the mouth for at least four hours every day, preferably at night. When dentures are removed, your senior should gently brush his or her tongue, gums, and palate with a soft-bristled toothbrush to assure proper oral care.
If you are unsure about providing proper oral hygiene for someone with manual dexterity issues, an elderly care provider will be able to monitor dexterity and offer proper hygiene advice and assistance to your senior. Proper monitoring by an elderly care provider may help to maintain or improve proper oral care, avoid painful oral disease, and minimize expensive oral treatments.
Sources: Z. Žecová, J. Kopøivová, and Martin Sebera, Manual Dexterity of Older Adults Living in Homes for Elderly People, 83 Scripta Medica 130 (2010).
Eli Carmeli, Hagar Patish, and Raymond Coleman, The Aging Hand, 58A J. of Gerontol. 146 (2003).
American Dental Association, Department of Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute, Oral Health Topics, Aging and Dental Health (updated July 2, 2019).
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