A guide for caregivers: how to brush someone else’s teeth

Although it may seem strange, there may be many times in life when you find yourself needing to help someone else brush their teeth.  Whether you are aiding a child, an ill loved one, an aging parent or a friend with special needs, there are many circumstances where providing tooth brushing assistance may be necessary.  The process may seem awkward at first, but when you have the right supplies on hand and employ the correct techniques, aiding someone else with dental hygiene may be easier than you expect. A few things to remember:

Gather your supplies: Collect disposable gloves, a soft head toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, a basin and a towel.  Choose a location with a sink nearby (if possible) that features ample lighting. Consider utilizing a camping head torch to aid your vision, if needed. 

Prepare for the process: If there are any special instructions from the oral health care provider of the person you are aiding, read them thoroughly.  Make sure your friend or loved one is comfortable and as upright as possible. Assist from behind, the side or the front, depending upon what feels right for you.  Make sure the person understands what you are doing. Clearly communicate each step of the process.

Know how to brush: Encourage the person to relax their lips and cheeks as much as possible.  Place the toothbrush on the gum line and brush only a few teeth at a time, using small motions.  If needed, use a second toothbrush – not your fingers – to lift the lips and cheeks to improve visibility. Clean all surfaces of the teeth: the outside, inside and chewing surfaces.  Also gently clean the inside of the cheeks, the gums and the tongue. Check the mouth closely, watching for swelling, red or white areas or sores.  If you note any ongoing areas of concern, contact the person’s oral health care provider. After brushing and cleaning, encourage the person to rinse and spit into a bowl or sink, as able. And don’t forget to floss!

A word about dentures: If you are assisting someone with full or partial dentures, let them show you how to take the dentures out.  Both kinds of dentures must be cleaned daily.  When cleaning, carefully check for cracks in the dentures, and if any problems are found, contact the person’s dentist.  To clean dentures, use a denture brush and soap, and rinse well after scrubbing. Dentures can also be soaked overnight in special cleaners or in warm water.  If a denture features metal clasps, soak in warm water only.

Aiding a friend or loved one with routine oral health care doesn’t have to be complicated.  Remember to approach the process with patience, communicate frequently and take breaks if you need to.  And don’t forget to help your friend or loved one brush at least twice a day. Oral health care doesn’t have to cause tense moments or bouts of anxiety – for either one of you!   Armed with knowledge, caregivers can confidently aid loved ones with brushing, flossing and oral health care. That’s something to smile about!

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