Dysphagia/ Swallowing Difficulties

A dental hygienist checking a woman for swallowing difficulties.

What is dysphagia?

  • Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing and is most often caused by neurological problems such as stroke , depression and dementia .
  • There is an increased risk of developing pneumonia with dysphasia therefore, additional support and modifications are required during oral care routines.
  • Individuals with dysphagia often inhale.

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How can I prevent aspiration? (i.e. taking foreign matter into the lungs)

  • The person should be sitting upright, tucking their chin down prior to oral care to prevent any liquid from pooling at the back of the throat.
  • If the person is bedridden, raise the bed to a 90 degree angle, tuck their chin down, and turn their head to the side.
  • People with dysphagia often “pocket” food in their cheeks which can be removed by using the corner of a soft moistened cloth prior to brushing .
  • Toothpaste or mouthwash should not be used, only a toothbrush slightly moistened with water.
  • A slightly damp washcloth can be used during brushing to clear any debris or saliva from the mouth.

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How can I take care of my teeth and mouth if I have dysphagia?

For dentures:

  • Dentures must be cleaned  daily as a person with dysphagia can easily inhale bacteria from dental plaque left on the denture.
  • Monitor dentures for fit and see dentist/denturist if dentures become loose since decreased muscle function from dysphagia puts a person at an increased risk for swallowing their dentures.

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