Unforgettable expert and dentist Dr Raman Bedi provides advice on how good dental hygiene can impact on the risk of choking.

Meal times provide one of the most challenging periods of the day for both the caregiver and those they are caring for. Ensuring comfort throughout the meal process can be difficult and time consuming.

Choking is not uncommon especially when someone’s swallowing capacity is impaired or their mouth is dry, which can happen to those with dementia and the elderly. Choking is frightening for everyone and it is important for the care giver to keep calm at all times.

Care givers should encourage eating slowly, in small portions, chewing well, whilst sitting upright and always having a glass of water available. Being able to chew well will be reliant on good dental care and well-fitting dentures. If they are uncomfortable or in pain, they may struggle to chew food well and be at greater risk of choking.

If choking does occur the caregiver needs to have quick access to the mouth. Mouth props, such as the Bedi Shield will provide easier access to the mouth, thus helping to remove any obstacles in the mouth and limit the effects of choking.

If a person complains of a dry mouth, then choking will be more common. The immediate panic for both the carer and individual choking which sets in during a choking attack is all too common. Patting on the back or simply struggling to remove any items in the mouth without assistance are difficult to do quickly.

Often, carers are frightened of being bitten and that is where a good quality mouth prop comes in handy. It comfortably allows access to the mouth and the carer can then use their finger to remove any object or foodstuff blocking the airways.

The mouth prop protects both the carer from being bitten but also the person involved from having any teeth damaged. It is crucial any mouth prop used is not made of metal or plastic. These can damage the teeth or break fillings if bitten too hard.

Finally, please try to maintain regular dental appointments for someone with dementia, as this will help to reduce the risk of gum and teeth problems that can make choking more likely. The elderly need to be mindful of the amount of sugary and acidic food they eat to ensure that any teeth they have are kept clean and healthy.

- Professor Raman Bedi

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