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The Undeniable Importance of Oral Hygiene for Those with Dysphagia

TWO minutes TWO times a day can preserve your teeth & gums (based on recommendations from the American Dental Association, And it can save your life. 

Think of your mouth as the gateway to your body. If you develop gum disease (gingivitis) and your gums begin to recede to the point of allowing bacteria under your gumline (periodontitis), that bacteria can travel a direct path into your bloodstream. 

Harvard Health Publishing (2021) indicates that people with periodontitis may have 2-3x the risk for stroke and heart disease. And periodontitis occurs in as many as 740 million mouths worldwide (Zardawi, et al, 2021). Periodontitis is the 6th most common human disease (Sanz, et al, 2020; Zardawi, et al, 2021). Statistics gathered by the CDC (2013) found that periodontal disease increases with age and that 70.1% of adults 65 years and older have periodontal disease. Brushing and flossing consistently is all it takes to prevent gum disease. 

For persons with dysphagia, oral care holds even more importance. 

  • A clean mouth can have a tremendous impact on health outcomes for persons with dysphagia. 
  • Because saliva is a thin liquid, it is important to recognize that it can be easily aspirated (this is the term we use when material enters the windpipe or trachea, allowing it a direct pathway to the lungs). 
  • All people, even those without swallowing problems, aspirate small amounts of saliva every day. However, if a person has plaque and food particles stuck between their teeth, this material can mix with saliva and enter the airway. 
  • In cases where a person has an impaired immune system, this can lead to a lung infection. But with a clean mouth, plaque and food particles will not be present to mix with saliva that may enter the airway. 
  • Adequate oral care can be the difference between preventing pneumonia and being hospitalized with a lung infection. 


  • Get up & brush! Stimulate your gums and tongue. If you do not like brushing your tongue, consider using a tongue scraper. 
  • Flossing is just as important as brushing…and there are tools to make it easier like hand-held dental flossers. In addition, they travel well…keep a pack in your car or purse for use on the road. 
  • If you nap after meals, BRUSH before you lay down. Do not rest with the chance that particles of food will remain trapped in your teeth while you sleep. Cleaning dentures after meals is important for the same reason! 
  • Before you call it quits for the night, brush one last time (tongue too)! Dental professionals recommend always removing your dentures when sleeping. 
  • If you are immunosuppressed or have a chronic disease like diabetes, you are more likely to develop pneumonia if you inhale saliva with plaque mixed into it into your airway. Regular brushing helps mitigate the risk for developing pneumonia. 


  • You only need a PEA-SIZED amount of toothpaste on your brush. 
  • Brushing harder is not better. If you find that are irritating your gums when brushing, try switching to a softer bristle toothbrush. 
  • Are the bristles on your brush looking bent out of place? Most dentists recommend replacing your brush every 3-4 months ( 
  • Do your gums bleed when you brush? Don’t quit! Instead, keep brushing gently so that you can fight gum disease and prevent more bacteria build up. In addition, make sure you let your dentist or doctor know right away; some medications do make gums more likely to bleed. You may want to schedule a dental cleaning sooner than later. 
  • Do you GAG when brushing your tongue or your lower teeth? Try using a brush with a smaller head and save those sensitive spots to brush LAST. 

Optimal Care for Dentures: 

  • Dentures, whether a full plate or a partial, require care just as consistently as your original teeth. Food particles can still get caught up in between the teeth and under the plate. It is important to: 
    • REMOVE & RINSE dentures after eating. AVOID HOT WATER; it can warp the shape of your dentures. 
    • REMOVE and gently brush dentures at the least once a day with a soft toothbrush and non-abrasive tooth paste. 
    • Soaking dentures overnight is very important to the longevity of your dental investment!

A little bit of preventative care for your dental health can go a long way towards maintaining your overall health. Don’t skip brushing and treat your teeth with care! 

CDC. (2013, July 10). Periodontal disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from 

Harvard Health Publishing. Gum disease and heart disease: The common thread. Harvard Health. (2021, February 15). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from,gum%20disease%20develops%20heart%20problems. 

Sanz, M, Marco del Castillo, A, Jepsen, S, et al. Periodontitis and cardiovascular diseases: Consensus report. J Clin Periodontol. 2020; 47: 268– 288. 

Zardawi F, Gul S, Abdulkareem A, Sha A and Yates J (2021) Association Between Periodontal Disease and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Diseases: Revisited. Front. Cardiovasc. Med. 7:625579. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2020.625579 

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