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Oral Care for Seniors with Arthritis

by Dr. Joshua Davidson, Senior Dental Care Expert
December 02, 2011

Question: I have arthritis in my hands and have difficulty cleaning my teeth. What can you recommend?

Answer:

Let’s start at the very beginning…

A modified toothbrush is a great place to start if you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Always use a  toothbrush with soft bristles. The handle of a toothbrush must be large and one can increase the diameter of the handle by securing a piece of styrofoam tubing over the handle. Major hardware stores carry the tubular foam that is used for insulating pipes. Cut a piece of this foam and tape it onto the handle of your toothbrush. A foam handlebar grip from a bicycle shop also works well. These individual additions will help enlarge the size of the toothbrush handle and provide comfort while gripping the toothbrush. Another aid is a tennis ball. Cut and X in opposite ends of the tennis ball and have someone slide the toothbrush handle through these cuts. A racquet ball could be used as well.

Electric toothbrushes tend to have larger handles and provide a bigger grip for the person with arthritis and the best benefit is that the electric toothbrush does the work for you! Just remember to be thorough and brush all surfaces of every tooth.

Floss. Wrapping a length of floss around your fingers and navigating the teeth around the mouth can be tough. Lots of hand gymnastics are needed to accomplish this task, but there are a number of pre-strung flossing handles in the marketplace to help with the task of flossing. I cannot recommend any specific brand because each person has varying degrees of dexterity. Try out different types of gadgets and see which works the best. Word of mouth is also good. Ask your friends what works for them.

Search the home care aisle at any grocery store and take some time perusing the oral health care gadgets available. Trial and error will eventually prove which configurations and materials that suit you best.

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Joshua Davidson is a 2011 graduate of the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. He simultaneously received his Masters Degree in Public Health. He currently works at the Chippewa Falls Dental Center in Chippewa Falls, WI focusing on issues of geriatric dental care.

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