Helping Someone Else Care for Their Teeth

If you’re a parent, this may be your child who doesn’t yet have the physical dexterity to do it for himself or herself. If you’re a caregiver, it could be that the person you’re caring for has forgotten how to use their toothbrush, forgotten that tooth care is a part of their routine, or has a temporary or permanent physical disability that makes it hard for him or her to care for their own teeth.


Good mouth care is important because cavities, tooth and gum infections, mouth pain, and pneumonia may happen if teeth aren’t cared for properly. Daily care is important to keep the mouth healthy.


You should wear gloves when helping someone else. (Gloves are available at drug stores.) Try to avoid putting your hands in their mouth, especially if there is a chance that they may bite you.


Brush teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush. You may need to use a brush with a smaller head size to get to hard-to-reach areas. Toothbrushes should be replaced every 3 to 4 months.


Use an interdental brush (rather than floss) to clean between teeth.  Most caregivers find the interdental brush easier to use than dental floss.


If the person has red, inflamed gums, try brushing with an antibacterial rinse such as chlorhexidine gluconate (prescription) or Listerine Total Care. Have the person rinse with and drink fluoridated water.


Have professional dental check ups every 6 to 12 months.


If the person has dentures, remove the dentures for 4 to 8 hours every day. The dentures should be stored in a cup of water when they are out of the mouth to keep them from drying out. To clean the mouth, wrap gauze around a gloved finger and dip the gauze into an oral rinse (Listerine Total Care or Biotene are two good ones) and use the gauze to massage the gums, cheeks, and roof of mouth. Have the person spit.  Clean the dentures by partially filling the sink with water (to cushion them in case they fall from your hands) then rinse them under running water and use a soft toothbrush to clean them. Do not use toothpaste or fluoride on dentures.


If the person is resisting your efforts to help them with mouth care, here are some options you can try:


  • Stay calm and explain what you’re doing. Move and speak slowly and make eye contact.
  • Touch their mouth, jaw, or cheek with the toothbrush to encourage them to open their mouth.
  • Have them watch you (say “watch me”) and demonstrate what you want them to do (example: open your mouth wide).
  • Ask the person to smile and brush their front teeth while they are smiling. For back teeth, try asking them to sing a favorite song as a way to get to the back teeth.
  • Distract them by talking about something they like or giving them something to hold.
  • Ask if they’d like to do it themselves (or try to)
  • Offer encouragement and praise
  • Ask them to let you know if anything you do hurts, and say you’ll stop if they have pain.
  • Try to keep to a routine and do the mouth care at the same time each day


If none of these work, take a break and try again later.  Hopefully, you will find some of these tips helpful if you are helping someone else care for their teeth.


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who is taking new patients at her office located at 1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. Call 440-960-1940 for an appointment.