Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

What is Dementia?

Dementia refers to a variety of conditions that cause mental impairment. It describes people who struggle to think clearly, remember, and make decisions to the point that it interferes with everyday life.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but it’s only one of several disorders that fall into this category. Most of the time, dementia disorders affect older adults. However, younger people can develop it too.

Dementia causes changes in:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Reasoning
  • Judgment
  • Communication
  • Visual perception

It can also affect a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks and simple routines, including personal hygiene. If you suspect you or a loved one is showing signs of dementia, speaking to a doctor as soon as possible is essential.

Is Dementia A Normal Part of Aging?

Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Slight memory lapses, such as forgetting your keys or struggling to remember names, are perfectly normal. 

Dementia affects old memories, language, and other things that should remain intact regardless of age. Everyone is different, and signs of dementia vary from person to person.

Caregivers must take responsibility for a loved one’s health to prevent physical problems and the mental health issues associated with dementia. This includes a dementia patient’s oral health.

How Does Dementia Affect Oral Health?

Dementia can make maintaining good oral health more challenging. Undergoing invasive dental treatments is stressful and difficult for people with dementia to understand.

Some dental difficulties people with dementia have include:

  • Following an oral hygiene routine
  • Informing caregivers if they have a toothache
  • Forgetting to brush their teeth

These struggles can lead to poor dental hygiene, tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health conditions.

As dementia progresses, it grows increasingly difficult for patients to communicate pain and discomfort. As a caregiver for people with dementia, the more you can keep a stable dental routine, the less you’ll worry about a dementia patient experiencing pain or undergoing stressful treatments.

Mouth Care for People with Dementia

During the early stages of dementia, caregivers will typically focus on preventative dental care. 

Preventative dental care involves:

  • Prioritizing dental hygiene and mouth health
  • Daily brushing and flossing
  • Regular dental appointments

Prioritizing the dental care of elderly people with dementia can lessen the likelihood of future dental problems that require extensive or emergency treatment.

During the mid and later stages of dementia, caregivers will likely need to assist the person with basic dental care. As challenging as routine dental care might be, keeping up with this is essential.

How to Support People With Oral Health Issues & Dementia

You can do several things to provide oral hygiene care for people with dementia.

Dental Hygiene Tips for People with Dementia

You can set a reminder on your phone to brush and floss your own teeth daily. You can also ask someone to remind you if you don’t want to use devices.

If you aren’t sure you’re doing it right, ask your dentist for a demonstration. You can also ask a loved one for assistance if you’re experiencing challenges at home. 

Other things you can do to maintain oral and mouth care include:

  • Schedule visits to the dental office twice a year for checkups
  • Use fluoride toothpaste under supervision if you tend to swallow while brushing
  • Use special dental health tools like a large-handle soft-bristled toothbrush or electric toothbrush for at-home dental health

If you are uncomfortable with anything about your usual at-home dental health routine, consider changing it. This includes brushing somewhere other than the bathroom or brushing at a different time of day.

Dental Hygiene Tips for Parents and Caregivers

There are several things caregivers can do to help maintain good dental health for people with dementia.

For example:

  • Help the person brush their teeth after every meal
  • Have them rinse their mouths out with water after eating or a few times each day 
  • Consider wiping their mouth with gauze or a wet cloth, especially after consuming sugary foods and beverages
  • Provide short, simple instructions when reminding them how to brush their teeth
  • Find a dentist who has experience working with dementia or other special needs patients 
  • Make sure the dentist has the contact information of other caregivers who help provide care to the patient 

Having a dentist who has experience working with patients with dementia can make the yearly appointments less stressful. If they’re struggling with brushing their teeth, consider brushing your teeth together.

Brushing your own teeth can help them remember what they should be doing. It also helps avoid embarrassment when dementia progresses from early to middle stages.

Tips for Dentists Working with a Dementia Patient

Working with people with dementia can be an intimidating experience. It gets easier with time, but no two situations are the same.

The more flexible and patient you are, the easier dental visits will be for everyone involved. Consider adding house calls to your list of services.

Conducting a dental exam out of your office might be challenging for you. However, an exam in a comfortable and familiar environment for a person with dementia is much easier on them.

You may also want to consider the following:

  • Discuss the person’s at-home dental health routine with them and their caregiver so they know what to do in the future
  • Make sure caregivers know the signs of tooth pain and other dental health issues
  • Ensure caregivers look for signs of discomfort or distress when chewing (facial expressions, movements, etc.)
  • Provide tips on how to keep the person’s mouth moist 

It’s normal for saliva levels to dip as someone ages, even if they do not have dementia. However, a person with dementia might struggle to communicate thirst and symptoms of a dry mouth. Medications are available to help with saliva production if the problem is severe. 

Listen In Q&A Format

Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers
NewMouth Podcast

Dementia Resource Links

There are also online resources that can help you understand the condition and information on providing dental care to people with dementia.

These resources include:

Summary

Dementia can make maintaining good oral health challenging. People with dementia may struggle with everyday tasks like brushing their teeth and communicating that they’re in pain.

They may also get stressed when visiting the dentist. Because of this, people with dementia are more prone to tooth decay and other dental problems.

If you’re providing care to a person with dementia, it’s important to remind them how to brush their teeth and provide simple instructions on how to do it. Make sure to look out for any signs of dental problems and discomfort.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What Is Dementia?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  2. What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis.” National Institute on Aging.
  3. Dental Care.” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, 2019.
  4. Marchini et al. “Oral Health Care for Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease: An Update.” Special Care in Dentistry.
  5. Foltyn, P. “Ageing, Dementia and Oral Health.” Australian Dental Journal, 2015.
  6. Dementia.” Mayo Clinic, 2023.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram