Skip to main content

Oral care for seniors With dementia: Tips for caregivers

Posted on March 28, 2024 in Healthy You

older man at dentist

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging, and maintaining good oral health can become a difficult daily task. But having a healthy mouth is essential for overall well-being and quality of life. Here, you’ll get practical tips and strategies to make caring for oral health easier for seniors with dementia.

Oral health challenges for people with dementia

Dementia can affect various aspects of dental care. People with dementia may forget to brush their teeth twice daily or resist brushing due to confusion about why it’s important.

Some seniors with dementia may also have muscle or motor skill problems, such as tremors or difficulty holding a toothbrush, that can make brushing frustrating.

On top of all that, people with dementia may take medications that heighten their risk for oral health problems, such as dry mouth. Dry mouth isn’t merely an uncomfortable condition; it can lead to cavities and mouth infections.

Caregiver tips on how to make dental care easier

Below are some general tips on how to care for the oral health of someone with dementia.

  • Break down the process: By breaking the process of toothbrushing into smaller steps, you make the task easier and more approachable for someone with dementia. Here’s how you can divide it up: wet the brush, apply toothpaste and clean each section of the mouth.
  • Make it enjoyable: Use flavored toothpaste, play calming music or incorporate toothbrushing and flossing into familiar routines to boost comfort and cooperation.
  • Use special tools designed to make it easier: Consider soft-bristled toothbrushes for comfort or an electric toothbrush with an easy-grip handle for better control for people who struggle to hold onto smaller objects. Floss holders or water flossers may make flossing easier.
  • Keep dentist appointments on the calendar: Schedule twice-yearly dental checkups for deep cleanings and to help identify any potential oral health issues earlier, when they are easier to treat.

Addressing specific concerns common in people with dementia

Aside from general daily oral hygiene, seniors with dementia may also face added dental health challenges. Below are some ways to address common ones.

  • Managing dry mouth: You can help prevent dry mouth by encouraging frequent sips of water, using sugar-free lozenges and seeing a dentist every 6 months.
  • Denture care: Properly clean dentures by brushing and rinsing them every day. Make sure to see a dentist every 6 months to ensure that the dentures fit well (a poor fit on dentures may lead to infection).
  • Medication side effects: In general, people take more medications as they age. With more medications comes more side effects that could affect oral health. Be aware of side effects like dry mouth or altered taste, and discuss concerns with the patient’s doctor or dentist.

Communication and empathy are key to caring for seniors with dementia

When helping a senior with dementia care for their oral health, be patient and understanding. Communicate calmly and avoid forcing the patient to do anything. Try again later when the patient may be in a better mood. 

Offering praise and encouragement when the patient cooperates is a great way to make dental care a positive experience. Involve them in the process by allowing them to choose their toothbrush or toothpaste whenever possible to help them feel in control.

Finally, seek support by connecting with dementia support groups to share experiences. Caregiving is hard, but you are not alone in the journey.

By understanding the challenges, adapting routines and using a compassionate approach, you can ensure your loved one with dementia receives the oral care they need for a healthier and more comfortable life.


Alzheimer’s Association

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

National Library of Medicine

Family Caregiver Alliance