Caregiver: A Guide to Oral Health

As a caregiver, you’ve got a lot on your mind. Keeping your loved one’s mouth healthy is important for their dental health, overall health and so much more.

No matter your situation, daily care plus professional care equal the best chances for a healthy mouth.

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:

  • Ask them to tell you about their daily mouth care routine.
  • Help them set up and maintain a schedule for brushing twice and flossing once a day, and get them a two-minute timer to help them brush for the right amount of time
  • 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.
  • Make sure they are using a fluoride toothpaste and suggest using fluoride or antiplaque mouth rinse daily
  • 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.

Still, keep an eye on your loved one and his ability to care for his mouth. 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.

Adults who are unable or unwilling to care for their mouths may need your help. Always treat the person compassionately, as you would want to be treated. Learning to brush someone else’s teeth takes a great deal of patience and trust.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Make sure the lighting is good and have a flashlight in case you need it to see into the mouth.
  • Have the person sit up in a straight-backed chair and drape a towel over their chest to protect their clothing.
  • 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.
  • Hold their chin gently with one hand, and show them the brush, floss or toothpaste you are using with your other hand.
  • Explain what you’re going to do. This builds trust and improves acceptance of help


You may also need to be flexible if your loved one resists. Try a different time of day; sometimes the traditional times are not the best times to get it done. Try again 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.

Dentures, whether partial or full, need to come out every day and be cleaned morning and night. Make sure dentures come out before your loved one falls asleep. Dentures may dislodge and become a choking hazard

When you’re a caregiver 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

When your loved one has a memory or neurological disorder like Alzheimer’s or dementia, take care of any potential dental needs in the early stages of the disease when the person can cooperate with dental care. It is a good time for the caregiver to form a rapport with the dentist and discuss long term treatment plans. It is also the right time to discuss the patient’s needs while they are still able to express their desires.

If your loved one has any special dental needs, let the staff know – and don’t be afraid to state the obvious. If they have 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 labelled with their name.

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 flavours of toothpaste to encourage cooperation, or use warm water to see if it makes a difference. Patients  with dentures may find the gum and soft tissue may be sore and fragile, so wipe the mouth with a soft cloth dipped in water.

For more tips and advice for you, the caregiver see MouthHealthy for a more in depth article.