According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people around the world have a disability. That's one in eight individuals of all ages who may need assistance managing their daily lives. One area in particular that often requires caregiver attention is oral health, which isn't always easy.
Depending on the disability, addressing a disabled individual's health needs can be overwhelming—and such concerns may be even greater now due to COVID 19. In light of all these and other pressing issues, caring for a disabled person's teeth and gums could easily take a back seat.
But oral health has a far greater impact on a person's health than just their mouth. Inflammation related to gum disease, for example, could worsen other systemic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. And, unhealthy (or missing) teeth could inhibit a person in meeting their nutritional needs.
But you can effectively manage their oral health by keeping your focus on a few principal items related to dental care. In recognition of International Day of People with Disabilities this December 3rd, here are some practical guidelines for ensuring your friend or family member maintains their oral health.
Stay consistent with daily hygiene. Brushing and flossing can be very effective toward preventing dental disease, but only if it's consistently practiced every day. Someone with a disability may need help maintaining that consistency, so be sure you set a regular time and place for them to brush and floss to help reinforce the habit.
Make brushing and flossing easier. These twin hygiene tasks may also pose challenges for a disabled person who has issues with physical dexterity or cognitive function. You can help ease those challenges by making sure they have the best tools to help them perform the task at hand, like large-handled brushes, flossing picks or water flossers.
Brush and floss together. For some individuals with a disability, a caregiver may need to perform their hygiene tasks for them. But even if they're able to do it for themselves, it may still be overwhelming for them on their own. In that case, brushing and flossing with them, and injecting a little fun into the activity, can help positively reinforce the habit for them.
Accompany them to the dentist. If you're heavily involved in a disabled person's daily oral care, you may want to go with them and sit in on their regular dental visits. This is a time when you and their dentist can "exchange notes," so to speak, to better be in sync with what needs to be done to improve your loved one's oral care.