Assisted Brushing: Getting Elderly People with Dementia to Brush Their Teeth

Updated on October 20, 2020

Daily brushing is vital in keeping the gums and teeth in good health. This is important especially for older adults, as plaque tends to accumulate rapidly on their teeth. When seniors neglect to clean their teeth regularly, they risk developing unwanted oral complications, such as tooth loss, gum disease, and dry mouth.

Sadly, some elderly individuals are unable to brush their teeth regularly. Seniors with dementia, for instance, may forget to take care of their mouth due to their condition. If you have elderly family members with this illness, you need to get them to clean their teeth. A toothache caused by oral decay, for instance, could make the person with dementia easily irritated or restless, according to this Dentist in encino.

Here are some strategies you can consider to help someone with this condition clean their teeth properly:

Provide Instructions that Are Easy to Follow

The words “brush your teeth” may be too vague for the senior with dementia. Instead of saying those words, break down the tooth brushing process into simple steps.

First, say “Hold the toothbrush with your hand.”

Next, ask them to grab the toothpaste using their other hand.

Then, instruct them to squeeze toothpaste onto the brush gently.

Finally, ask them to gently put the toothbrush toward their mouth and start brushing. Experts from recommend brushing along the gum line to remove food debris and plaque and prevent bacteria from accumulating in the mouth.

Let the Person Watch You Brush Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth in front of the person with dementia may help them recall how to use a toothbrush. Begin by holding your toothbrush. Then, brush your teeth normally. Encourage your loved one to copy your movements.

Try Various Types of Toothbrushes


If an adult toothbrush is discouraging the individual from cleaning their teeth, look for better alternatives. A toothbrush with a big handle, for instance, might make it easy for your loved one to grasp and maneuver the handle. Alternatively, get an easy-to-use electric toothbrush. Have the person test these toothbrushes and find out what option they prefer.

Use Lukewarm Water for Rinsing

As individuals age, their gums recede. This exposes sensitive tooth roots. Using cold water to rinse away the toothpaste could cause pain to the elderly and they may choose to resist oral care. During your brushing sessions, make sure that they use tepid water.

Change the Brushing Environment

If your loved one is hesitant about cleaning their teeth in the bathroom, consider holding your brushing sessions in the kitchen sink. Changing the environment could result in a change in response. Make sure that the sink comes with a hanging mirror. This object helps reinforce self-care memories and allows you to perform additional brushing cues.

Play Music during Brushing

If you see that the person is becoming restless with brushing, try playing calming music to reduce agitation. This can help keep the individual happy during your cleaning sessions.

These suggestions can help your elderly loved one with dementia brush their teeth regularly. On top of daily brushing, make sure that your family member visits the dentist regularly. Periodic oral check-ups and appointments with the hygienist can help keep the teeth clean and healthy. 

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