How can I help my wife with brushing her teeth?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 24, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can you give any suggestions for a dementia-diagnosed wife whose motor and movement skills are seriously hampered? How can I help in brushing her teeth for her? She simply cannot handle a toothbrush.

Expert Answers

Helene Bergman, LMSW, is a certified geriatric care manager (C-ASWCM) and owner of Elder Care Alternatives, a professional geriatric care management business in New York City. She consults with nursing homes and daycare programs to develop specialized programs for Alzheimer's patients.

Maintaining good oral health for persons with dementia is important but also very challenging to caregivers. This is true whether ones motor skills are compromised or not. Research has shown that oral disease is prevalent in adults with dementia for many reasons. If the patient is still functioning independently but has a moderate memory impairment, he or she might go into the bathroom but forget for what or when there, how to perform the brushing teeth task. It is also common for a patient to say, "I brushed my teeth already" when in reality he/she hadn't and the caregiver might accept that; this is the same with other ADL's(activities of daily living) like bathing or even eating. Chronic diseases and medications can negatively affect dental health and bacteria easily breeds in the mouth. Thus, despite any resistance or opposition, this task should be accomplished.

If your spouse's motor skills impair her ability to complete the task, then you may need to perform it with her in a step by step process. If possible, have her see what is being done and perhaps distract her by putting something soft in her hands (stuffed animal if appropriate). Then tell her as you perform each step. Patients even with advanced dementia can follow simple directions (i.e. open your mouth, rinse). However, if she is at a more advanced stage, you can help swab her mouth with Foam Oral Mouth Swabs. These can be obtained either from adaptive equipment websites or in specialized drug stores. This process, in addition to periodic visits to the dentist for routine cleaning, will contribute to better oral hygiene.

Community Answers

From the front line answered...

Electric Toothbrush or maybe a water pick
or Another Website.

As always try and make the activity fun, and build up to it.

Tell them in 30 minutes were going to brush your teeth the In 15 minutes were going to brush your teeth Then again In 5 minutes were going to brush your teeth

Never surprise or force them to do anything, they might fight back because of the forcing.

Lancer01 answered...

I agree, the electric tooth brush helps, I even let my Fathere pick out which brand he wanted to use so he had some buy into the process. I let him brush what he can and then I give it a going over again to cover what he misses, he's 86 Yrs old. I also increase the number cleaning appointments to the Dental Hygenist so they can do some good thorough cleaning more frequently. Hope this Helps Lancer in Tucson

Kathporter answered...

I substituted flossing for brushing and purchase those little plastic picks that have a small strand of floss already rigged up. That way I don't have to put my fingers all the way in (I've been bitten) or sometimes mom and I floss together and she will mimic my movements.