Mouth Care

Why is mouth care important?

graphic showing two people with healthy, white teeth

A healthy mouth is important to your health and well-being.

People with a learning disability are more likely to have problems with their oral health than the general population.

Poor oral health can lead to a build-up of plaque on your teeth and gums which can cause gum disease and tooth decay. This can cause pain and discomfort and make it difficult and unpleasant to eat and drink.

Poor oral health is also associated with other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Why is poor mouth care a risk factor for healthy lungs?

graphic showing healthy lungs

There is a strong link between poor mouth care and developing chest infections and pneumonia.

You have lots of bacteria that live in your mouth. Most of the time this doesn’t cause any problems but if you have poor oral hygiene, gum disease or tooth decay this can cause the bacteria to multiply. These bacteria can travel to the lungs where they can cause chest infections and pneumonias.

What does a healthy mouth look like?

  • Your gums, tongue and cheeks should be healthy and pink.
  • Your mouth should be moist with saliva
  • Your gums should not bleed when you brush them
  • You should not be able to see any plaque on your teeth
  • Your teeth should not be decayed or cracked
  • You should not have a sore mouth, ulcers, swelling, red or white patches.

Problems with your mouth

Tooth decay

graphic showing bad teeth, tooth decay

Tooth decay happens when bugs (bacteria) in your mouth mixes with the sugar you eat causing holes in your teeth (tooth decay).

graphic showing someone eating a healthy diet

If you can eat and drink what you choose can help prevent tooth decay

  • Try to avoid sugary foods and drinks.
  • Milk and water are safe drinks for teeth.
  • Tea and coffee with no sugar or a sweetener are safe in moderation.
  • Sip water regularly to help keep your mouth moist. This will make food easier to swallow.
  • Try to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
Gum disease

graphic showing tooth brushing

Brushing your teeth and gums every day helps to reduce the risk of disease and keeps your gums healthy.

Bleeding when you are toothbushing can be a sign of unhealthy gums.

It is important that you do not stop brushing.

  • You should brush your teeth two times a day.
  • Brush last thing at night and on one other occasion.
  • Brush all surfaces of your teeth and gums using small circular motions.
  • If you cannot brush all your teeth in one go you should brush more often.
  • You should aim to brush all areas of the mouth at least once a day.

If you have swallowing difficulties or a feeding tube, you can have more bacteria (plaque) in your mouth.

These bacteria can travel to the lungs where they can cause chest infections and pneumonia.

Dry mouth

A dry mouth can be uncomfortable and can make it difficult for you to eat, speak and swallow. A lack of saliva can also increase your risk of tooth decay.

You may have a dry mouth if you are not eating or drinking enough and you have become dehydrated.

graphic showing a girl drinking water

A dry mouth can be a side effect from tablets and medication. Speak to your dentist if you have a dry mouth

graphic of doctor with speech bubble with medicines to show 'giving medicine advice'

Tips for a dry mouth

Try to have regular sips of water or sugar free juices.

Keep your tongue clean, if your mouth is dry your tongue can become cracked and sore.

Keep your lips moist with lip balm or a water based mouth moisturising gel.

Cut down on things that might dry your mouth such as alcohol and caffeine

Your dentist can look at what is causing you to have a dry mouth and can prescribe treatments and products that can help.

Oral thrush

graphic showing someone with toothache

  • Oral thrush is a fungal infection in the mouth.
  • Oral thrush causes white patches in the mouth, a loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • It can cause cracks at the corners of the mouth.
  • It can cause redness and a painful burning sensation in the mouth and throat.
  • Sometimes the symptoms of oral thrush can make eating and drinking more difficult.
  • You should see your doctor or dentist if you think you might have oral thrush.
  • If you have symptoms, it is sometimes treated with antifungal medication

Signs that something might be wrong

  • A change in behaviour or a new behaviour for example, putting fingers in mouth, holding face
  • A swollen face, mouth ulcers or bleeding from the mouth
  • Increased salivation
  • A change in appetite, only eating on one side of the mouth or avoiding hard foods
  • Disturbed sleep
  • A reluctance to have teeth brushed

Dental Care

graphic showing dentist examining someones teeth whilst they are in a dentists chair

It is important that you see your dentist regularly for check ups even if you have no teeth. Your dentist will tell you how often you need to visit.

Local Dental Care

If you don’t have a dentist, you can search for an NHS dentist near you Find a dentist – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

The Community Dental Service is a specialist service.

There is a specific access criteria and only health professionals can refer. For more details visit : Dental services – Bradford, Airedale, Wharfedale, Craven – BDCT

Dental emergency and out-of-hours care

If you think you need urgent care contact your usual dentist, if you have one.

You can also contact NHS 111 Get help for your symptoms – NHS 111  who can put you in touch with an urgent dental service.

image of phone with phone 111 number on it

You can get help from 111 if you have:

Severe pain

Heavy bleeding

Swelling of your mouth, throat, neck or eye

When to go to A&E


Always contact your dentist first.

Only visit A&E in serious circumstances such as:

Severe injuries to your face, mouth, or teeth.

Severe or increasing swelling in your mouth, throat or neck, making it difficult to breathe, swallow or speak

If you are not sure if you should go to A&E contact NHS 111

You can find more information about good oral care

In the Oral Care section.

Information for carers:

Improving oral health for adults in care homes | Quick guides to social care topics | Social care | NICE Communities | About | NICE

Oral health toolkit for adults in care homes – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

British Society for Disability and Oral Health and British Society for Gerodontology- Looking after the mouth for carers:https://youtu.be/7s9zZOpCDBc

For carers | Oral Health Foundation (dentalhealth.org)

NHS England- How to provide care for patients with a dry mouth in hospital: https://youtu.be/nKN6-HbZ_D8?list=PLrVQaAxyJE3eYeayCLSUFpxtkMxWmRo7L

Information on mouth conditions

Oral thrush (mouth thrush) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Dry mouth – Oral Health Foundation (dentalhealth.org)