Oral hygiene and its importance for individuals with eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties

By: Ali Sheperd

Posted: 26th July 2018

Oral hygiene is the term used to describe the process we take to keep our teeth and mouth healthy and free from disease. In order to keep our mouths healthy, we are advised to clean our teeth at least twice a day with a toothbrush and toothpaste. We also use the muscles in our mouths (tongue, lips etc) to remove the leftovers of food which may be still in our mouths after we have swallowed.

If an individual has poor oral hygiene, plaque and food can build up in their mouths increasing the amount of harmful bacteria they have in their mouths. Oral hygiene is particularly important for individuals who may experience difficulties with eating and drinking (dysphagia). Research has shown us that individuals who may aspirate (food and/or drink entering lungs) can develop respiratory complications or pneumonia due to inhaling a high amount of materials and bacteria from their mouths into their lungs. Individuals with dysphagia also may have a weakness with using their tongue and lips to remove bits of food left in their mouths which are also at risk of being inhaled.

How should I look after my mouth and teeth?

We recommend that everyone should clean their teeth at least twice a day with a medium toothbrush and toothpaste (the size of a pea). For individuals with dysphagia, we advise regular mouth care after meals to ensure all food has been swallowed. If you have thickened fluids, there are gels available from the chemist which can be used instead of water and toothpaste.

How do I look after my teeth if I am nil by mouth?

Oral hygiene is also essential for individuals who may have their feeding via a feeding tube (PEG). Regular mouth care with a soft toothbrush is essential and we would advise you to contact your speech and language therapist so that you are safely cleaning your teeth and mouth.

Do I have to clean my dentures?

It is just as important to keep your dentures clean too! Your dentures may collect bacteria on them which can also affect your oral hygiene whilst you are wearing them. We would recommend that Dentures are cleaned each day with toothpaste and a toothbrush to remove any remaining food. For individuals with eating and drinking difficulties, we would advise their dentures to be rinsed with water following every meal. Dentures should be taken out at night and left in a container.

Who can help me with my oral hygiene?

Your local dentist will be able to support you with your oral hygiene and provide regular monthly checkups to assess and clean plaque and bacteria. The dentist will also be able to support you with ensuring that your dentures are well fitting to efficiently chew your food.

Your speech and language therapist will also be able to support you with ensuring you are performing oral hygiene that complies with your eating and drinking recommendations.

If you feel you may benefit from speech and language therapy or would like any more information on our services please email office@slt.co.uk or call 0330 088 5643.

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