Keeping a healthy smile poses special obstacles for children and adults with physical or mental handicaps, which can make brushing teeth and flossing difficult.
"For many people, tasks that most of us can accomplish without thinking -- such as brushing and flossing -- require complete concentration or special assistance," says Mary Starsiak, D.D.S., a general dentist. "Because of a physical or mental handicap, both adults and children have a greater risk of developing dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease."
Some factors are dietary. For example, says Dr. Starsiak, an inability to chew adequately may mean that some people need to consume food that is pureed. The carbohydrates in these foods can stick to teeth and promote cavities. Other disabled persons must eat frequent, small meals which increase exposure of teeth to cavity-causing acids. Other disabled persons take medications that include large amounts of sugar to make them taste better. The sugars promote tooth decay.
In many cases, health professionals, home care providers, or family members can help provide the appropriate oral hygiene tasks. The following suggestions may help people to brush and floss without assistance.
Attach the toothbrush handle to the person's arm with a wide elastic band.
Enlarge the toothbrush handle by enclosing it with a sponge, bicycle handle grip, or by sticking the handle of the brush through a pliable rubber ball.
Lengthen the toothbrush handle with a piece of wood or plastic such as a ruler or wooden tongue depressor.
Bend and mold the toothbrush handle by running hot water over the handle--not head--of the brush.
Dr. Starsiak says that if they can afford it, many disabled persons should switch to electric toothbrushes, such as Sonicare®. "I strongly advise disabled patients or their caregivers to consider electric brushes because they are so much easier to operate and they are thorough," she says. "They really do get the job done."
Disabled persons also can use floss holders, and even electronic flossers that are now reaching the market.
"Dental care affects all other parts of the body," concludes Dr. Starsiak. "It is especially important for disabled persons to get the appropriate oral care because it affects their overall quality of life."
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