Dementia Care: Oral Hygiene

Medically Reviewed

It’s important not to neglect the dental care of dementia patients and to have them continue with dental checkups.

We now know that gum disease is linked with serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and also plays a role in increasing the severity of symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis.

One of the things that can make it difficult for a dementia patient to continue caring for their own teeth is that they have less saliva, and certain medications can make their saliva output even lower. This can change the taste of toothpaste and mouthwash, so if your loved one doesn’t want to brush, lack of adequate saliva, also known as dry mouth, could be the cause.

Tips for brushing

As with other activities of daily living, encourage your loved one to do as much brushing and flossing as possible on his or her own. Here are some tips if he or she needs help:

Have him rinse his mouth with water right before starting care.

Sit her comfortably in a chair. Seat yourself slightly behind him or her. Using a soft toothbrush, gently and thoroughly brush the teeth. (Don’t tilt back her head when you brush, or you may cause aspiration of liquid into the lungs.)

If the person is uncooperative and starts to resist before the job can be completed, try using an electric toothbrush, which can speed up the brushing process. Your loved one may not like the noise of the brush or may become upset by the vibrations produced by the fast-moving bristles. You’ll need to experiment to identify if this is helpful or not.

Switch toothpastes if your loved one doesn't like the taste. Keep in mind that brushing without toothpaste is still very effective. And while mouthwashes are great for controlling bacteria, the taste may become off-putting or it may irritate the gums. Try diluting the mouthwash with some water or else try another brand. Stop using mouthwash if it becomes an issue.