Chapter 1: Personal hygiene

Mouth care

As my grandmother got sicker, she said her mouth always felt dry and that the ice chips helped. We just kept them coming as long as she wanted them – whatever we could do to help.

Many people with advanced illness experience significant mouth problems, which can affect their quality of life. Common problems include dry mouth, lips, and throat; open sores; yeast infections; or discomfort with dentures and partial plates. One way to help keep person who is ill comfortable is to assist them with their oral and mouth care. Click each phrase below for suggestions and guidelines to help with mouth care.

Moisten dry lips with a water-based moisturizing gel. Water-based moisture sprays that can be used to moisten the mouth with a fine mist are also available. Avoid petroleum- or alcohol-based mouth care products as they cause dryness.

Refresh the mouth with regular rinses throughout the day. Options are club soda, mild salt solution (1/2 teaspoon salt mixed in 4 cups water) or mild bicarbonate solution (1 teaspoon baking soda mixed in 4 cups water).

Some people like to suck on ice chips or chew sugar-free gum or candies to relieve a dry mouth.

If the person is able to drink, keep liquids nearby at all times. If the person cannot safely swallow, do not give them fluids, as even small amounts of liquid can lead to choking.

Avoid using a mouthwash that contains alcohol, which dries the mouth. Be sure to check commercial brands, as most do contain alcohol.

If the person’s room is very dry, a humidifier may help relieve some of the dryness in the mouth.

A regular mouth care routine helps keep the person comfortable and ensures that medication given under the tongue can be properly absorbed. Provide mouth care three or four times a day, or more if the person requires it.

Watch the video for a demonstration and tips on helping person who is ill with mouth care.

Personal Hygiene - Mouth Care from Canadian Virtual Hospice on Vimeo.

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