Do you care for a family member who has special needs, ill or elderly? If so, you may be interested to know that November is National Family Caregivers Month. It’s a time to recognize the work that caregivers put in to keep up with the health and wellbeing of a family member, and dental care is an important element of your overall health. The results of good dental care extend far beyond your loved one’s mouth, and poor oral hygiene can have serious health implications. Letting plaque and bacteria accumulate can cause systemic inflammation and stress on your family member’s immune system, increasing their chances of stroke, heart attack and diabetes. This is a particular risk for family members with complex medical histories or who are on multiple medications, making it even more essential that their dental care is maintained.
Even though taking care of your family member’s dental needs is important, it can be challenging. If they have sensory-related issues or trouble with fine motor skills, they may not be able to take care of their own oral hygiene and rely on caregivers to do it for them. There are ways to make it easier for you to provide your family member with specials needs support with dental care. For instance, there’s no rule saying you need to brush or floss in the bathroom. If it’s easier, you can set up a station in the kitchen or dining room. Also, for family members who are frightened or confused about the process, you can adopt a tell-show-do approach, where you tell your family member what you’re going to do, show them how you’re going to do each step, and finally do it. In addition, depending on the gross motor skills, Occupational Therapists may be able to provide some adaptive approaches (i.e. toothbrush grip) to support independence for oral hygiene.
Good dental care is an ongoing need, and individuals who need caregivers are at a much higher risk of tooth loss from bad habits, trauma from seizures, inflammation and cavities. Caregivers are able to both prevent and/or lessen the effects of these risks by providing family members with help and simultaneously maintaining their dignity and quality of life. Dentists are your allies in this process, particularly if the practice, like EJL Dental, is one of the few practices that provide care from infancy through adulthood for our patients. With support from your dentist, caregivers can more easily care for a loved one’s oral health while remembering to take care of yourself in the process.