A Guide To Oral Care For Bedridden Elderly Patients

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Updated:

Oral hygiene is important for bedridden adults because it is directly linked to their overall health. Use the following tips to help bed bound seniors improve their oral health which might just help them feel a little bit better.

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The importance of oral hygiene for bedridden elderly patients cannot be underestimated. Oral hygiene is a significant factor that affects the quality of life and overall health and wellbeing of bedridden patients. If you are caring for a bedridden elderly patient and wonder how to take care of his/her oral hygiene, you have come to the right place. This article provides information on highly effective oral care tips for bedridden elderly patients.

Why is Good Oral Hygiene So Important for Bedbound Adults?

Dental health problems are quite common in elderly patients who are bedridden. The body experiences a number of challenges and issues including aging teeth and gums as we get older. It affects the oral health of bedridden patients and increases the risk of disease.

Some Common Health Conditions Are Linked to Poor Oral Health

On the other hand, a number of common health issues experienced by older people have side effects linked to oral health. For example, diabetes, cancer, smoking, arthritis, alcoholism, and the medications taken to treat these conditions could affect the oral health of the elderly.

In fact, diabetes is a high-risk factor for gum disease and oral infections including thrush. Uncontrolled diabetes aggravates gum disease, and the systemic inflammatory response caused by gum disease could increase the risk of cardiovascular complications.

Can Reduce the Risk of Respiratory Infections

Scientific studies show that good oral hygiene helps reduce respiratory infections in elderly bed-bound patients.1 Poor oral health in bedridden patients can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

The mouth of these elderly patients serves as a reservoir for recurrent lower respiratory tract infections with the accumulation of dental plaque and bacteria over time. The condition becomes even worse if your loved one has gum disease, tooth decay, dry mouth, and difficulties with swallowing.

Improves Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is one of the most common side effects of numerous medications prescribed for bedridden elderly patients. It affects your loved one’s ability to speak, chew, taste, and even swallow food. This condition can increase the risk of tooth decay, aspiration pneumonia, and oral infections in your loved one over time.

Reduces Risk of Oral Cancer

The risk of oral cancer increases with age. In fact, oral cancer is considered the 6th most common form of cancer. The condition is more prevalent in older patients aged 60 and upwards. Proper oral hygiene is important to prevent conditions such as oral cancer and improve the overall health and well-being of your bedridden loved one.

They Might Just Feel a Bit Better

Think about how much better you feel with a clean, minty fresh mouth. Now, image what it would be like to not be able to perform this task by yourself or not being able to just go take care of this need anytime you want. Having a clean mouth – compared to a dry mouth with stale breath – can be an immediate mood buster!

Oral Care Tips For Bedridden Elderly Patients

When your loved one is bedridden, their medical condition often decreases his/her ability to properly clean and care for their teeth. Such a patient cannot carry out a thorough brushing regime unassisted by a caregiver. Bacteria and plaque will build up around the gum line and in the mouth and lead to gingivitis over time. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontitis, which is considered the leading cause of tooth loss in bedridden patients.

Here is how to improve the oral hygiene of people who may be confined to bed.

Use A Kid’s Toothbrush Or Disposable Teeth Cleaning Swabs

Trying to brush the teeth of your bedridden loved one with a standard adult-size toothbrush is not a sensible thing to do. Instead, you should use a kid’s toothbrush or disposable swabs to clean his/her teeth. These options are smaller and will make it easier for you to move around the brush in your loved one’s mouth and lessen the risk of injuring their gums due to accidental slips of the brush. An adult brush has a big head that could easily slip and cause gum injuries while brushing their teeth.

Learn more about special toothbrushes for elderly people here.

Find The Most Comfortable Position For Tooth Brushing

Find the most comfortable position for your senior loved one when brushing his/her teeth. Whether it’s by the sink or seated on a chair with a cup of water and towel in hand, experiment until they are comfortable with the position you choose. You may stand behind the loved one or sit in front of him/her to have a better reach when brushing their teeth.

Make sure you brush the teeth and gum line of your loved one at a 45-degree angle. Select a few teeth at a time, and use a rolling back and forth motion on these teeth. Make sure to brush the top and back of the teeth as well as gently brush the tongue.

Use Little Or No Toothpaste

The effectiveness of tooth brushing results from the manual back and forth motions. It helps remove any buildup and plaque from the teeth of your loved one. If your bedridden patient has difficulty in swallowing, you should use little or no toothpaste when brushing their teeth. Some elderly patients may not be able to tell even if they dislike the taste of the toothpaste. Hence, be cautious when using toothpaste to brush their teeth.

Use Interproximal Brushes Or Pre-Made Flossers Instead Of Standard Dental Flossers

Your bedridden loved one needs to have his/her teeth flossed regularly to maintain good oral hygiene over time. You know how difficult it is to floss your own teeth. So, of course, it isn’t easy to floss someone else’s teeth, especially a bedridden loved one.

Fortunately, there are interproximal brushes or pre-made flossers to floss the teeth of your senior loved one. These products make your task a lot easier than opting for a standard dental flosser. You can easily purchase these items online or at any local pharmacy.

Use An Antibacterial Mouthwash

Using an antibacterial mouthwash helps keep your bedridden loved one’s teeth and gum line clean and healthy. It isn’t harmful even if swallowed and will do a great job at taking care of their oral hygiene.

Clean The Dentures

If your bedridden loved one wears dentures or other dental hardware, you should remove and clean them regularly. Remove the dentures before you start brushing their teeth and clean them thoroughly. It helps maintain good oral hygiene in the long run.

Find A Dentist Who Will Perform Bedside Dental Exams & Cleanings

Your bedridden loved one should obtain regular dental care just like any other family member. Find a dentist who will travel to the homes of bedridden and disabled people to give them a dental exam and cleaning.

Oral hygiene is important for bedridden elderly patients just like any other person. But, because of their unique needs, standard oral care tips for seniors may not be applicable. Caring for the oral hygiene of a bedridden elderly patient isn’t easy. I hope this guide provided the information you wanted about highly effective oral care tips for bedridden elderly patients.

Sources:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15374188
Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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