Oral Hygiene Tips for People With Special Needs

If you have dexterity problems or a physical disability, you may find it difficult to hold onto your toothbrush or dental floss. This can be solved by using a few simple "home remedies" or devices listed below:

  • Use a wide elastic band to attach the brush to your hand.
  • Enlarge the brush handle with a sponge, rubber ball or bicycle handle grip. Also try winding an elastic bandage or adhesive tape around the handle.
  • Lengthen the handle with a piece of wood or plastic such as a ruler, popsicle stick or tongue depressor.
  • Tie floss into a loop for easier handling.
  • Use an electric toothbrush or commercial floss holder.

People of all ages may have special conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation, Down syndrome, genetic disorders, Alzheimer's disease or arthritis. Caregivers may need to provide oral hygiene assistance to people with special needs. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a well-lit, convenient location.
  • If the person is uncooperative or uncontrollable, try to calm him or her by explaining what you are about to do, or schedule the task for a time of day when the person is more rested or may be more receptive.
  • Move in a calm, slow, reassuring manner to avoid startling the person.
  • Give verbal praise and reinforce independent attempts.
  • Support the person's head, and take special care to prevent choking or gagging when the head is tilted back.
  • If the person is unable or unwilling to keep their mouth open, you can make a mouth prop can by taping several tongue depressors together. Discuss with your dentist how to insert a mouth prop to avoid injury to teeth.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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