Oral Hygiene for Hospice Patients
Hospice care is about helping patients live the remainder of their lives in comfort. Despite the fact that over 75% of hospice patients experience oral complications, more than half have poor oral hygiene practice. Maintaining routine care and addressing the common oral complaints found among hospice patients will help loved ones be more comfortable and healthy while in hospice care.
Why Oral Hygiene Matters During Hospice Care
Have you ever forgotten to brush your teeth one morning and were horrified when you realized it? You feel self conscious and as soon as you are able you get to your bathroom sink. The moment you have that final rinse and spit you feel infinitely better. Imagine having to live your remaining days without experiencing the simple relief of brushing your teeth. This is why the importance of maintaining oral hygiene in hospice patients cannot be overstated.
A person’s oral health has implications for a multitude of daily experiences like speaking and eating. Pain can make talking and swallowing difficult or impossible. In the case of elderly hospice patients, improper care of dentures can lead to infections and painful conditions that prevent the mouth from being fully opened. With the increase in accessibility and prominence of dental implants, the conditions associated with dentures should eventually decline but for the time being, dentures must be given complete daily care to avoid complications.
Chronic deficiency in hygiene can also have emotional effects, impacting the patient’s dignity. As oral health declines, patients may withdraw and further compound feelings of depression and isolation. Keeping basic routines in place not only helps to avoid physical complications, it is incredibly important for the patient’s emotional well being.
Practical Daily Hygiene Routine
Given the appropriate materials, some patients can provide for themselves but this will change as the patient’s physical abilities change and should be amended as needed. If getting to and from the bathroom is uncomfortable plan to conduct daily oral hygiene in bed. Provide a bowl for spitting, hand towel for drips and a clean glass of water for rinsing. A bedside mirror is appreciated as it can be unsettling to brush blind. A mild mouth rinse is nice for those that do not have sores in the mouth. Provide your loved one with lip balm to apply after brushing to soothe dry or cracked lips. Remove and clean all items when the patient is done. This step is important to keep the limited bedside space uncluttered and to mark the end of the daily routine.
Common Oral Complaints Among Hospice Patients
There are several oral issues that are common among hospice patients, regardless of their diagnosis. Dry mouth affects up to 90% of hospice patients and can make it hard for the loved one to rest, swallow, or speak. A cup of ice chips, small sips of water, and lip moisturizer can help and should be accessible all the time. Oral candidiasis is another very common condition which seriously compromises quality of life. Commonly known as thrush, this is an overgrowth of the already present yeast population in the mouth. It causes painful sores on the tongue, cheek, roof of mouth, and back of throat. It is miserable for those inflicted with it and hospice patients are especially susceptible due to weakened immune systems and dry mouth. Medication can be prescribed to treat it but it is hard to control once it begins. The key to prevention is good oral hygiene practices and treatment of dry mouth.
Everyone wants to give their loved one the best possible quality of life while in hospice care. By keeping the focus on comfort and care, hospice patients can avoid painful and disruptive oral health complications at the end of life.