Chapter 1: Personal hygiene
Many people with advanced illness experience significant mouth problems that can affect their quality of life. Common problems include dry mouth, lips, and throat; open sores; yeast infections; or discomfort with dentures and partial plates. One way to help is to assist the person with their mouth care. Click each phrase below for suggestions.
Encourage the person who is ill to continue to brush, floss, and rinse the mouth normally as long as possible. Use an ultra-soft toothbrush and non-foaming toothpaste with fluoride.
If normal brushing is not possible or if the person is unconscious, use gauze or a cloth moistened with water to clean the mouth. Swab the inner surfaces of the mouth and tongue with a water-based mouth moisturizer gel.
Continue to remove and clean dentures regularly. If the person has lost weight, dentures may not fit well anymore, causing discomfort. For this reason, some people choose to leave their dentures out or wear them only for eating.
Avoid lemon, alcohol-based, and glycerin mouth care products as they have been shown to cause dryness.
Check the person’s mouth regularly and tell healthcare providers about any noticeable changes such as bleeding, open sores, or white patchy areas commonly associated with a yeast infection.
Follow healthcare provider recommendations for treating yeast infections. If the person wears dentures, these also need to be treated daily during the treatment period. Talk to the person’s healthcare provider; they will likely advise the dentures be soaked in the antifungal prescribed.
Moisten dry lips with a water-based moisturizing gel. Water-based moisture sprays that can be used to moisten the mouth with a fine mist are also available. Avoid all petroleum- or alcohol-based mouth care products as they cause dryness.
Refresh the mouth with regular rinses throughout the day. Options are club soda, mild salt solution (1/2 teaspoon salt mixed in 4 cups water) or mild bicarbonate solution (1 teaspoon baking soda mixed in 4 cups water).
Some people like to suck on ice chips or chew sugar-free gum or candies to relieve a dry mouth. If the person is able to safely chew and swallow, cutting grapes in half and freezing them might also be a nice way to provide moisture.
If the person is able to drink, keep liquids nearby at all times. If the person cannot safely swallow, check with their healthcare provider for suggestions. Sometimes thickeners are recommended. It’s important to know that even small
amounts of liquid can lead to choking if the person is unable to safely swallow.
If the person’s room is very dry, a humidifier may help relieve some of the dryness in the mouth.
A regular mouth care routine helps keep the person comfortable and ensures that medication given under the tongue can be properly absorbed. Provide simple mouth care three or four times a day, or more if the person requires it.
Watch the video for a demonstration and tips on helping person who is ill with mouth care.