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Dental Care Help for Caregivers of Individuals with Alzheimer’s

May 9, 2022

Written by
Dr. Amanda Tavoularis (

Dr. Amanda brings over 20 years of experience to the Dentably Team. She’s committed to dental excellence and helping underserved communities develop good dental habits and assist them to find the best dental care.

Oral hygiene is extremely important throughout your life, but this is especially true as you age. Your bones begin losing density over time, including the jawbone. Enamel gets worn down over time, and can’t be replaced once it’s gone. These factors contribute to an increased risk of dental decay, gum disease, and periodontal disorders with age.

Illnesses can also contribute to oral hygiene problems. People with Alzheimer’s have additional risk for dental problems. Patients with Alzheimer’s often struggle to receive adequate dental care, even in nursing homes. Patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s are at an even higher risk, and the number of patients with Alzheimer’s is predicted to double by 2050.

It isn’t that people don’t care. A lot of places are very supportive, and there are a lot of programs that support individuals and caregivers with Alzheimer’s. The problem is that there is a widespread lack of education regarding the best way to treat patients with Alzheimer’s, and help them manage their oral care.

Use Simple Instructions

A lot of individuals with Alzheimer’s forget how to brush their teeth. Explain the importance of dental care by breaking down your instructions into easy steps. “Brush your teeth,” might not be enough detail for a patient with Alzheimer’s, and the frustration may cause them to feel bad or give up on the idea.

Instead, walk them through the process. Break everything down into easy to follow steps. “Hold your toothbrush.” “Put the toothpaste on the brush.” Then, teach them how to brush their teeth again, with up and down and side to side motions, teaching them how to brush the fronts and backs of their teeth as well as the top.

Show Them How to Brush

A great way to teach is by example. If your patient with Alzheimer’s is having difficulty understanding verbal instructions, then brush your teeth with them. Hold the brush and show them exactly how to do it. Go slowly enough that they can follow your steps and mirror your actions.

Change the Routine

If your patient with Alzheimer’s becomes impatient, frustrated, or agitated, then just postpone and try again later in the day, when they may be in a better mood. You don’t need to brush as soon as you wake up and right before bed, as long as you take care to brush regularly. Find a time when both you and the person you’re caring for are calm and have the time and energy to devote to brushing and flossing.

You also don’t need to brush and floss from the bathroom if it’s a sensitive or triggering location. You can easily prepare a basin and put it on a table somewhere comfortable, or brush and floss from a kitchen sink instead if the location is causing problems.

Consider a New Toothbrush

One of the biggest things that pretty much everyone neglects to do is change their toothbrush regularly enough. A toothbrush should be replaced every 3 to 4 months. If you’ve been sick, you should change it sooner. If your bristles are frayed, they won’t clean thoroughly.

Because people aren’t always good at replacing their own toothbrush nearly as regularly as they should, patients with Alzheimer’s are even less likely to change their brush on time. Even the best caregivers often overlook small details like this, and individuals with Alzheimer’s are not easily able to keep track of important dates in time, never mind small details like when they last replaced their toothbrush.

They may do better with a different type of toothbrush than they usually buy, too. The softer bristles of children’s toothbrushes often work better than harder adult bristles on patients with Alzheimer’s. Brushes with longer handles may be easier to use than standard brushes, which will help them manage their own oral care. Shop around until you find a brush that works really well, and avoid electric brushes, which can be even more confusing to patients with Alzheimer’s.

Find an Experienced Dentist

The right dentist can make all the difference when partnering to care for an individual with Alzheimer’s. You will want to contact your local dental society to find some professionals who have experience working with people with Alzheimer’s and elderly patients and partner with them to make sure they’re aware of all your patient’s special needs and medications to help control and eliminate the oral issues due to the dry mouth side effect of many medications.