If you have a child or a loved one that has a physical or intellectual disability, you know that daily care can be the sole responsibility of the caretaker. This presents some special challenges, especially when it comes to oral care. Depending on their level of functioning your loved one may need simple stand-by assistance or full care to be able to maintain proper oral care. This in of itself can be a challenge, especially where the back teeth and flossing are concerned.

Overall good oral care is important for everyone but for those of us with medical issues such as diabetes, bleeding disorders, heart disease and eating and digestion issues, oral care is especially critical. Our oral health is so closely linked to the overall health in our body that when we have pain or infection in our mouths it can harm the rest of our bodies. So how can we take better care of our special needs family members’ oral care?

The first step is to use brushes and floss that are appropriate for their needs. Sometimes you need specially made equipment for them. Larger handles, soft grips, and extended handles are some helpful modifications to toothbrushes. There are also special devices that help us make flossing easier and more efficient as well. One of these is a long-handled tool that holds a flossing head on the end. This makes it so much easier for anyone to get into those hard-to-reach places and floss properly.

Sometimes the individual you are caring for can have a lot anxiety associated with oral care, this is particularly true if the individual has mouth pain or soreness that makes it uncomfortable for them to brush. They also find it frightening to have someone else’s hand in their mouth. They might fight or even try to bite the person administering oral care. Do not be discouraged, the best thing to do is be slow, gentle, thorough, and accommodating. It can be frustrating but often talking to the person can help. Explain everything you are doing before and as you are doing.

Keep explanations simple and on a level that the one you are caring for can understand but do not talk down to them because this can only cause further frustration. You may have to step back a few times and give the individual a chance to calm down or relax a bit. With time and routine, you can have a much easier time working together to get the job done.

No matter what special needs your loved one has, good oral care at home is possible. Take some time to ask questions when you go to your orthodontist with our loved ones. There are a lot of resources and information out there that can help you. You can always come to us here at Burrow Welchel & Culp Orthodontics for answers that you can rely on. You can also find many great resources online such as at the American Dental Association.


Dr Sam Burrow D.D.S., D.M.D. – Dr. Burrow was born in Charlotte and moved to Charleston to obtain a Bachelors of Science in Biology at the College of Charleston. He graduated magna cum laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and then stayed to earn a D.M.D. with honors at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Burrow completed his orthodontic residency at University of Detroit Mercy in Michigan and is now in practice with his father at Burrow Welchel & Culp Orthodontics in the Charlotte area.