Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Long-term care nurses should embrace personal connections with residents to help them relax and allow oral healthcare, a specialist said recently.

More than 80% of nursing home residents struggle to brush their teeth, which makes mouth care even more necessary, according to a webinar from The Pioneer Network and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The presenters offered strategies on how to make teeth cleaning easier and more pleasant for the caretaker and resident.

Caregivers have to remember many residents become fearful when someone approaches their mouth, said Ann Louise Barrick, Ph.D. A resident that bites nurses or refuses to open his or her mouth has an underlying psychological reason for doing so. Figuring out this cause is imperative to facilitating mouth care.

Barrick said the four principal reasons for residents’ oral health stress are:

  • Personal, such as pain, anxiety, stiffness and need for control
  • Environmental, such as too much noise, brightness, room temperature and lack of privacy
  • Task-related, meaning the teeth care is too complex and fast
  • Communication, meaning the senior doesn’t understand or is unable to voice concerns

“You need to focus on the person, rather than the task,” she said. “Change your approach to address each person’s needs.”

Although cleaning schedules can be flexible, long-term caregivers must remember that residents who don’t have some oral health are at risk for pneumonia, gingivitis and tooth decay.

Staff should take time to explain what mouth care will involve, chat with the resident about personal interests, and develop a positive relationship, Barrick said.