Providing Daily Oral Care for Seniors as a Caregiver

If you’re responsible for caring for an older adult, it’s important to establish and maintain a regular oral healthcare routine.

For many people, oral health issues can lead to lower self-esteem, poor diet, and mouth pain. These issues may even lead to more serious health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung infections or pneumonia.

As a caregiver, the role you play in daily mouth care is very important and can greatly improve your loved one’s overall health and quality of life.

How to Brush Another Person’s Teeth

When you help care for another person’s teeth, there are a few things you can do to make the experience easier for both of you. If your loved one initially resists your assistance, be patient.  Consistency, repetition, and encouraging words often help people adjust to new situations.

Before you begin: Make sure the place you intend to do the brushing is comfortable for both you and your loved one. To help create a relaxed environment, offer some encouraging words, play music, or even sing.

Preparing to brush: Put on clean, disposable gloves to protect you and your loved one from unwanted germs. Bring the person you are caring for to a sink, or have them sit upright in a chair with a bowl of water nearby. Have a cup of water available for rinsing, as well as a towel for potential spills.

Positioning yourself: If the person you provide care for is sitting, stand behind them and cradle their head as you go through the Caregiving Steps for Brushing Teeth (below).

5 Caregiver Steps for Brushing Teeth

  1. Examine the lips and inside of the mouth. If you notice any cracking, lumps, white or red lesions, or sores that do not heal within 2 weeks, you should consult a dentist or doctor.
  2. Floss all teeth, dental bridges, and implants.
  3. Using a soft bristle toothbrush, brush each tooth with a small circular motion and gentle pressure. Angle the brush towards the gums as you brush the outside, inside, and chewing surface of each tooth. Brush for two minutes, at least twice a day. If available, you may want to consider using an electric toothbrush.
  4. Gently brush the tongue and roof of the mouth.
  5. Have your loved one rinse with water or an alcohol-free, germ-fighting mouthwash. If they’re unable to rinse, ask them to spit out any excess toothpaste and debris. Note that leaving a film of fluoridated toothpaste on the teeth can be beneficial.

If your loved one uses dentures, be sure to clean them daily and ensure they’re removed at night.

Oral Care After Eating

After your loved one eats, help them remove any remaining food from their mouth. If necessary, use gauze or a soft cloth to wipe away excess food. If you’re unable to brush their teeth, you can also ask the person to rinse with a cup of water and spit back into the cup. Encourage sips of water throughout the day to help clear a mouth of bacteria. You may also want to consider using gum or mints that include xylitol, a natural sweetener that helps prevent tooth decay.

What if Problems Persist?

If you’re struggling to maintain a regular oral health routine, talk to your loved one’s dentist about germ-fighting rinses that may help. The dentist may also recommend a stronger toothpaste with more fluoride that can help prevent cavities.

Keep Up With Dental Visits

As with most people, your loved one should continue to make regular dental visits, including a professional cleaning and exam, twice a year.

About the Author

Elizabeth Southern Puette, RDH, BSDH, MS
Member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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