The Caregiver’s Guide to Dental Health

If you’re one of the 44 million family caregivers in the United States, you’ve got a lot on your mind. However, keeping your loved one’s mouth healthy is important for their dental health, overall health and so much more.

“It’s also about comfort, safety and self-esteem,” says ADA dentist Dr. Judith Jones. “Keeping your mouth and teeth clean can prevent sensitivity or pain in your teeth. In terms of safety, there might be broken teeth, broken partials or unsafe partials they can swallow. And for their self-esteem, it’s important for individuals to have a sense of pride in their appearance and to have good hygiene.”

How much help you give will depend on the individual. If the person in your care can do the basics, let them. Some adults may have physical issues that make them unable to hold a toothbrush. Others may have memory issues, so they forget to brush and floss. People with dementia may need someone to clean their teeth each day and take them to a dentist. 

No matter your situation, daily care plus professional care equal the best chances for a healthy mouth. Here are some important mouth care steps for older adults. 

  • Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between the teeth daily with floss or other between-the-teeth cleaner.
  • Rinse dentures after each meal, brush them daily with denture cleaner and take them out before bedtime and store in water.
  • If the person has dry mouth, an alcohol-free mouthrinse may help. Sipping water, sucking (not chewing) on ice chips and using a humidifier while sleeping can help keep him or her hydrated.
  • Limit snacking and sugary drinks. Healthy foods and drinks such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and water are good for the mouth and the body.
  • Make and keep dental appointments. Even people with dentures need to visit the dentist.
  • Watch for symptoms that could signal larger issues, and make an appointment with the dentist to have them checked out. 

You may have questions specific to your own situation, so here are some starting points for different types of care cases. And always feel free to speak with your dentist or your loved one’s dentist for more advice.

How to Care for Your Loved One’s Mouth

  • If Your Loved One Can Brush and Floss On Their Own
  • If Your Loved One Needs Assistance
  • If Your Loved One Has Dentures
  • If Your Loved One Is In the Hospital or Confined to Bed
  • If Your Loved One Has a Memory Disorder
  • If You Have a Loved One In Long-Term Care