Of course, many aged care residents wear dentures. But when it comes to cleaning them what should carers actually be using?
Dentures should be cleaned with mild soap and a denture brush or soft scrubbing brush, says Associate Professor Janet Wallace, Facilitator Oral Health Strategic Planning Project, School of Dentistry, the University of Sydney.
Wallace recommends that unperfumed soap be used so it doesn’t affect the taste of the denture when it’s put back into the mouth.
Food debris and bacteria must be removed from the dentures “thoroughly”, she told HelloCare.
Toothpaste shouldn’t be used to clean dentures, Wallace confirmed, because it can “scratch” the dentures, making them difficult to clean. “Bacteria easily attaches to the rough, broken or scratched surfaces,” she said.
So, does that mean you can throw away the toothpaste?
Even those with none of their own teeth remaining must keep their mouth and soft tissues “clean and comfortable”, says Wallace.
“As we get older, and especially when cognitive impairment occurs, it sometimes can become difficult for frail, older people to clear their mouths with their tongues after eating; also, the tongue can be an area where food bacteria can thrive.
“Rinsing out with an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day is good.
“Brushing the tongue with a soft toothbrush with a very small amount of toothpaste is also a good strategy, and this also assists in keeping the breath fresh.
“If people with no teeth have a dry mouth, they can also use saliva liquid substitutes that can be purchased from the pharmacy,” Wallace recommends.
It’s best to remove dentures at night and store in a denture solution, which is available from pharmacies.
“When cleaning dentures over a sink, put a washer or small hand towel in the bottom of the sink so that if the denture is accidentally dropped, it won’t smash into pieces in the sink,” Wallace says.
Hold the denture in the palm of your hand and don’t squeeze too hard. “You don’t want to snap it in half,” she cautioned.
It is also important to clean natural teeth with a small soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
It’s particularly important that the teeth supporting dentures are cleaned “very thoroughly”, advises Wallace.
Fluoride in toothpaste provides protection from bacteria that causes decay.
“Used twice a day, [toothpaste] can provide a preventive effect against dental cavities and can assist in maintaining healthy gums,” says Wallace.
After using the toothbrush, it should be stored in a dry, secure place.
“Anything in the mouth that is sore or looks unusual should be checked by a dental practitioner – if in doubt, get it checked out!” says Wallace.
Brushing someone else’s teeth is not a simple task.
However, if you are looking after a person’s oral hygiene because they are no longer able to do it themselves, it’s good to establish a simple routine. Teeth should be brushed twice a day – in the morning and at night before going to sleep.
“Be gentle when brushing, use circles for the front of the teeth, a flicking motion for the insides of teeth, and a scrubbing motion, back and forth on the tops of the teeth,” recommends Wallace.
“Using fluoride toothpaste, start in the front of the upper right area of the mouth, brush every tooth. Move to the left side of the mouth.
“Give the resident a chance to have a rest and a spit out if necessary.
“Then move to the inside of the mouth, starting from the right side again and moving to the left.
“Another rest and spit, and then do the same for the bottom teeth, front and back,” explains Wallace.
If you are assisting a resident with their oral hygiene care, you should wear protective eyewear, gloves and a gown that can be removed afterwards.
“This is important to maintain a good level of infection control to protect the resident, you and others,” says Wallace.
“Oral hygiene care is as important as having a shower; it’s part of daily care needs,” says Wallace.
If you are concerned about a care recipient’s oral health, contact a qualified dental practitioner.