Tooth Brushing Tips for Older Adults

Keeping your mouth healthy is important for everyone! Good oral health habits can save teeth, limit toothaches and improve your ability to eat well. And an essential part of keeping a healthy mouth is effective tooth brushing.

Older Woman Brushes Teeth
Here are a few tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of brushing.

  1. Think outside the bathroom sink. Tooth brushing doesn’t need to be done while standing at the bathroom sink. You can just as easily complete the task at a table with a towel, bowl and cup of water. Think about what works best, and don’t be afraid to try new things to keep brushing simple and comfortable so that it stays a part of your daily routine.
  2. Use the right amount of toothpaste (or don’t use it at all). The most critical piece of tooth brushing is the physical removal of soft deposits (such as plaque and food). Toothpaste can have a fresh, minty appeal, and the fluoride is important, but the brushing itself is most important part.
    Pea-sized amount of toothpaste on toothbrush
    Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, if you choose to use it.

    If the taste of toothpaste is unfavorable or you struggle with spitting and swallowing, remember that you can always wash with water instead. If you do use toothpaste, make sure to choose one with fluoride, which can help prevent decay. And don’t forget that you only need a pea-sized amount.

  3. Pick the right toothbrush. To start, you’ll want to make sure your toothbrush has soft bristles and is easy to hold. If you have trouble gripping a standard toothbrush, consider a child-sized toothbrush or an electric toothbrush with a larger handle.
    Options to make brushing easier (from left to right): Pipe Insulator, Bike Handle, Wrapping a Washcloth, and using a Tennis Ball

    You can also consider modifying a regular toothbrush to make it easier to hold. Try wrapping or covering the handle with a small face cloth (use rubber bands to attach), styrofoam tubing or a bicycle handle.

  4. Brush gently along the gum line. Check out & print our tooth brushing guide (PDF 780 kB) for some additional guidance on brushing technique.
  5. Check between the cheeks and teeth for debris. As you brush, check the folds between the teeth and the cheeks where food remains may add up. Swipe the area with a gloved finger or large swab to clear it.
  6. Remove any dentures or partials before brushing.

Tips for Caregivers

For a caregiver maintaining an older adult’s dental health, positioning can be extra important when it comes to tooth brushing:

  • If the older adult you are caring for is in a wheelchair, you may find it easier to stand behind them when assisting with brushing.
  • If you’re brushing away from the bathroom sink, you may consider sitting knee-to-knee, which is both comfortable and will increase your ability to see into their mouth.

For more information, visit the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and Tooth brushing Tips from the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

About the Author

Ellen Downing Gould, RDH, MPA
Polished LLC

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.

Leave a Comment