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We all know the drill: brush at least twice a day and floss every night. The problem is that seniors may not be able to keep up with this routine because of arthritis in their hands or a variety of other problems. But, with some thoughtful modifications like the tennis ball toothbrush holder that we describe below, we hope that adult children of senior citizens will be able to help their parents to preserve their teeth well into old age.

How do we minimize pain in the hands?

The most important thing is to help mom and dad move towards a more ergonomic grip. If mom or dad feel like their hand is in a “golf swing” position with the thumb parallel with the brush, this may be contributing to pain. We recommend holding your toothbrush with the thumb wrapped around the fingers, like a four year old holding a lollipop, or giving someone a fist bump. (Ask your grandchild what this means if you aren’t familiar!)

We were feeling handy, so we made our own tennis ball toothbrush holder. It makes an ergonomic grip easy!

We modified a tennis ball using readily available tools—a serrated knife, a paring knife, a tennis ball and a toothbrush—to help mom or dad find the ergonomic grip we’re talking about.

Here’s what you’ll need: a serrated knife, a paring knife, a tennis ball and a toothbrush

Make sure your knives are sharp, and your tennis ball is reasonably clean. The ball need not be brand new, but let’s not use the dog’s tennis ball! And, remember to be careful when using the knives.

Step 1: Use the serrated knife to cut into the tennis ball

 

Make a single cut into the tennis ball using gentle pressure. The cut should be about 1 inch long, and go all the way through the felt and the rubber.

Step 2: Clean up the cut with the paring knife.

 

The first cut may not have gone all the way through at the edges. Make sure the opening is wide enough to insert the toothbrush handle, but not so wide that the toothbrush doesn’t stay securely in the cut.

When you’re done, it should look like this.

 

Step 3: Insert the toothbrush

 

The toothbrush should fit snugly into the tennis ball. This is what it should look like. If the cut is too narrow, widen it with the paring knife.

Step 4: Repeat steps one and two on the other side of the ball.

When we tried to brush at this point, but we found that the brush was too loose in the tennis ball to work well. So, we repeated steps one and two on the exact opposite end of the ball from the first cut.

 

To do this, take the brush out of the ball, find the exact spot on the opposing side of the ball and make a cut exactly like you did before. Then, re-insert the brush so that the handle goes through both openings. Now you’ve got a great tool for helping arthritic seniors take care of their own teeth!

Here’s another way to do it

Maybe you have some foam hair curlers lying around? These spongy cylinders are perfect for curling hair of course, but also for giving a bigger grip to toothbrushes, forks and other small utensils. Genius! You can also appropriate a wash cloth, ace bandage, tennis ball and other tools to bulk up your parent’s toothbrush, DIY style.

DIY isn’t your style? Maybe you need a gadget.

The Electric Toothbrush

With their low impact on hands and wrists, electric toothbrushes can be a breath of fresh air. Because of their larger grip, they are more ergonomic for arthritic hands as well. Studies show that electric toothbrushes are just as effective as the manual brush, if not more so. This tool can be useful for caregivers as well, who usually report that it takes less time to clean a whole mouth with an electric brush.

Water Flossers and Floss Picks

Electric water flossers can be more convenient and certainly less tender for sore fingers than trying to dig into your mouth with string. They work by forcing pressurized water into the space between tooth and gum, dislodging food and bacteria, just like traditional flossers. Floss picks are a single-use alternatives to string flossing, and while they do require a pinching grip, they may be easier on your hands.

Visit your dentist

Whether you’re a baby, with your new teeth bursting proudly from your gums, middle aged with a complete set, or into your later years with a few porcelain upgrades, visiting your dentist is important all throughout your life.

Even if it has been a long time since you’ve climbed in the chair, don’t be afraid. Our compassionate hygienists are specially trained to care for aging gums and teeth and to be sensitive to tender areas. We look forward to seeing you!