United States, you’ve got a lot on your mind.
However, keeping your loved one’s mouth healthy is
important for their dental health, overall health and
so much more.
“It’s also about comfort, safety and self-esteem,”
says ADA dentist Dr. Judith Jones. “Keeping your
mouth and teeth clean can prevent sensitivity or pain
in your teeth. In terms of safety, there might be
broken teeth, broken partials or unsafe partials they
can swallow. And for their self-esteem, it’s important
for individuals to have a sense of pride in their
appearance and to have good hygiene.”
How much help you give will depend on the individual.
If the person in your care can do the basics, let them.
Some adults may have physical issues that make them
unable to hold a toothbrush. Others may have
memory issues, so they forget to brush and floss.
People with dementia may need someone to clean their
teeth each day and take them to a dentist.
No matter your situation, daily care plus professional
care equal the best chances for a healthy mouth.
Here are some important mouth care steps for older
1. Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using a
2. Clean between the teeth daily with floss or other
3. Rinse dentures after each meal, brush them daily
with denture cleaner and take them out before
bedtime and store in water.
4. If the person has dry mouth, an alcohol-free
mouthrinse may help. Sipping water, sucking
(not chewing) on ice chips and using a humidifier
while sleeping can help keep him or her hydrated.
5. Limit snacking and sugary drinks. Healthy foods
and drinks such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and
water are good for the mouth and the body.
6. Make and keep dental appointments. Even people with
dentures need to visit the dentist.
7. Watch for symptoms that could signal larger issues,
and make an appointment with the dentist to have
them checked out.
You may have questions specific to your own situation, so
here are some starting points for different types of
care cases. And always feel free to speak with your
dentist or your loved one’s dentist for more advice.
If Your Loved One Can Brush and Floss On Their Own
Many older adults can care for their own mouths on a daily
basis but may still benefit from your support. In these
cases, here are some ways you can support their mouth
care routine: Still, keep an eye on your loved one and his
ability to care for his mouth. “It really is important to
get every side of every tooth,” Dr. Jones says. “If your
loved one is no longer capable of taking care of his teeth
then develop a routine where you can help do it for them.”
1. Ask them to tell you about their daily mouth care routine.
2. Talk with them about the importance of a healthy mouth.
Let them know that an unhealthy mouth can make other
health problems worse.
3. Help them set up and maintain a schedule for brushing
twice and flossing once a day. Check that they have
an easy-to-handle toothbrush with no frayed bristles, as
well as floss or picks they can manage. A powered
toothbrush may be easier for some people to use because
they can be easier to hold and do some of the work for you.
4. Make sure they are using a fluoride toothpaste.
Using fluoride or anti plaque mouth rinse daily may
provide additional protection from bacteria for their
teeth and gums
5. Get them a two-minute timer to help them brush for
the right amount of time.
6. Offer to make dental appointments for the person and
to drive him or her to the dentist. If the person goes
alone, ask about any advice the dentist gave and help him
or her act on it
If Your Loved One Needs Assistance
Adults who are unable or unwilling to care for their
mouths may need your help. Until you get comfortable
with each other, be patient. Always treat the person
compassionately, as you would want to be treated.
Being efficient and effective is the name of the game.
“When brushing someone else’s teeth, I recommend
a soft toothbrush,” Dr. Jones says. “If somebody has
three teeth it might only take 30 seconds to brush
those teeth. However, additional time will be
need to brush their partials or dentures.”
For cleaning between their teeth, picks or pre-threaded
flossers can help. If you find those or other
interdental cleaners too difficult to use, a water
flosser may help because it won’t require you putting
your hands in your loved one’s mouth.
Here are a few tips to get started: You may also need
to be flexible if your loved one resists. Try a
different time of day and point out that mouth care
will help their smile look and feel better. “Sometimes
the traditional times are not the best times to get it
done,” she says. “If it’s difficult brushing during
more traditional morning and night times, then try it
after lunch but before their afternoon nap.”
If your loved one continues to resist brushing, it may be
because they are experiencing pain or have a dental need.
See if they can communicate the issue to you. If not,
call the dentist to explain the situation and see if an
appointment is needed.
1. Before you begin, prepare the work area. Make sure
the lighting is good and have a flashlight in case you
need it to see into the mouth.
2. Have the person sit up in a straight-backed chair
and drape a towel over their chest to protect their
3. Make sure you and your loved one are in
comfortable positions. For some, it’s easiest to have
the person seated in front of a mirror with you working
from behind or on the side.
4. Hold their chin gently with one hand, and show them
the brush, floss or toothpaste you are using with your
5. Explain what you’re going to do and make it
enjoyable. Play music, tell jokes or get inventive to
make to make the time caring for their mouth fly by.
If Your Loved One Has Dentures
Dentures, whether partial or full, need to come out every
day and be cleaned morning and night. “Scrub them
carefully at night and store in a cup of water or
an ADA-Accepted denture cleanser,” Dr. Jones says.
“Rinse the denture before putting them back in
And make sure any dentures come out before your
loved one falls asleep – even during a nap. “Dentures
may dislodge and may cause choking,” Dr. Jones
says. “To be safe, always take them out before bed
times or nap times.”
If Your Loved One Is In the Hospital or Confined to Bed
When you’re caring for someone who is confined to bed,
they may have so many health problems that it’s easy to
forget about oral health. However, it’s still very
important because bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled
into the lungs and cause pneumonia.
Learn more about preventing hospital-acquired pneumonia
in this video from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
If Your Loved One Has a Memory Disorder
A June 2015 study found that 1 in 4 caregivers caring for
someone 50 or older is doing so because that person has
Alzheimer’s, dementia or other memory disorders. This
can make dental care even more challenging, but don’t
give up. “Like everybody else, people with dementia
need to get their teeth brushed every day, twice a day,”
Dr. Jones says. “Good dental hygiene is even more
important for people with dementia because they
often cannot communicate when there is a problem.
Engaging in daily care can help avoid trouble as well as
identify potential problems early when they are easier
If possible, take care of any potential dental needs in
the early stages of the disease when the person can
cooperate with dental care. “This can be a time where
you and your loved one can discuss their needs with the
dentist or take x-rays, if necessary,” she says. “It is also
a time for the family member or caregiver to establish a
relationship with the dentist who knows their loved
one’s dental history and can act as a resource later on.”
If You Have a Loved One In Long-Term Care
Nearly 8 million people reside in long-term care
facilities,according to the CDC. By law, these
facilities must provide routine and emergency dental
care. Still, don’t forget to ask about the dental care
they provide. Find out if there’s a dentist on site, or
if your loved one will have to travel to the dentist for
regular checkups. Ask who provides daily dental
hygiene care, if they’ve been properly trained and
make sure they’re doing it twice a day.
If your loved one has any special dental needs, let
the staff know – and don’t be afraid to state the
obvious. If he has dentures, point it out to make
sure those are also being cleaned and cared for. It
may also help to make sure his case is labeled with
If you’re told your loved one is having difficulty with
dental care, work with the care staff to find a
way to make it happen. “If your loved one is
resisting or is having difficulty during tooth brushing
in the advanced stages of dementia. Try different
flavors of toothpaste to encourage cooperation, or use
warm water to see if it makes a difference,” she
says. “In denture patients the gum and mouth tissue
may be sore and fragile, so wipe the mouth with a
soft cloth dipped in water.”