How Can I Help My Elderly Parent Brush?

An elderly couple brushing their teeth.

Good dental care habits are important at any stage of life, but even more so during your elder years. As you age, the body’s immune system and physical abilities can also deteriorate.

Your senior family member may no longer have the dexterity or mobility necessary to brush their teeth efficiently. They may start to require your assistance in taking care of their oral health.

Here are some tips for helping an elderly parent or loved one brush their teeth:

  1. Set Reminders for Them

    Help your elderly parents remember to brush their teeth. Their medical condition or old age may cause them to forget about it.

    You can set an everyday reminder for them if it’s time to clean their mouths, or you may personally assist, especially if they need help moving around. You may also use apps to remind them if they already need to replace their existing toothbrushs.

    Alternatively, you may personally go and check their toothbrushes because a toothbrush can wear before the 3–4-month average usage duration.

  2. Be Their Hand

    Some conditions can keep the elderly from understanding what is required of them.

    Some seniors can no longer brush independently and need someone’s assistance to do it. Some are too shy or embarrassed to seek help from a stranger or caregiver, so the best person to guide them or serve as their hand is you.

    As you brush their teeth, position the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, pointing toward the gums. Instead of the back-and-forth sawing motion, follow a small, circular, gentle motion.

    Let the fluoride in their toothpaste linger longer on the surfaces of their teeth. You may ask them to spit, but not to rinse yet. Floss their teeth as well, ideally, before brushing.

  3. Find an Appropriate Toothbrush

    To help an older family member grip their toothbrush more comfortably, it might be good to invest in specially designed toothbrushes with flexible handles.

    You may also consider getting them an electric toothbrush so they no longer have to move their brush manually. They only need to hold it in place, and the toothbrush will clean the surfaces of their teeth without additional effort on their part.

    If the brush, whether manual or powered, is still difficult for your elderly parent to hold, try improvising to make the handles thicker and more comfortable. You may use a foam tube or a dish towel secured with rubber bands.

  4. Care for Their Oral Appliances

    Oral hygiene is even more important if your elderly parents are using dentures. Whether partial or full, dentures need proper care so they'll stay in good condition.

    Debris buildup on dentures can make the teeth and gums more vulnerable to decay, cavities, and discomfort. This can also result in bad breath. Additionally, dentures must be checked regularly to ensure they fit well.

    Some elders may feel uncomfortable without their dentures, so make sure they aren’t stressed when it’s time to clean their appliances. Dentures can also pick up stains, so they must be cleaned thoroughly before use.

  5. Provide Caregivers With Clear Instructions

    If you’re partnering with a caregiver to look after your parent, be sure to provide them with clear instructions for brushing. Always check to see if anything is hurting in your parent's mouth.

    See if there are irregular patches, bumps, or injuries, and take note of where and when they first saw them. If they persist after 2 weeks, talk to your dentist about it.

    If your parents are still rinsing with mouthwash, choose an option that is antibacterial and alcohol-free to prevent drying the mouth.

Scheduling Routine Dental Visits for Senior Family Members

During these appointments, the dental hygienist or dentist may also provide recommendations to make everyday flossing and brushing easier for your parent.

Inform the dental team ahead of time if your parent has medical conditions. Choose a time that is most convenient for them or when they're in a good mood, so they’re more likely to listen and cooperate.

Elderly people need routine dental care so that any issues can be identified as early as possible. When not treated early, these issues can quickly progress. Regular checkups are even more critical for seniors with medical conditions.

Dental problems can impact the rest of the body. And aging can make seniors more susceptible to common dental problems, such as toothaches and gum disease.

Limiting Sugar Intake to Prevent Plaque and Tartar Buildup

Taste loss in the elderly can be due to various factors, including chronic diseases. It is often suggested that this reduced sense of taste can cause elders to lean toward foods with stronger flavors, such as sweet and salty foods. And diet can impact how quickly plaque and tartar form.

Brushing can get rid of plaque, but it cannot eliminate tartar. As part of your older parent’s dental care routine, watch out for their sugar intake too. Look into healthier alternatives for white sugars or sweeteners.

Dental Care for Your Elderly Parents or Seniors in Ottawa, ON

Helping the elderly brush their teeth can be difficult, and it can be a different scenario for every household. Some seniors can still move comfortably and brush on their own, while others may already struggle to hold a toothbrush.

In some instances, patiently explaining why brushing is necessary and showing them you’re doing it yourself first helps. They may not follow right away, but consistency may, in time, encourage them to do it too.

If you’re in Ottawa, ON, and need help looking after your senior parent’s oral health, contact us at Dow’s Lake Dental. We can help you and your family make the process more manageable.

Our supportive team of dental professionals is experienced in working with patients of all ages. Let's make your elderly parent’s dental visits as smooth-sailing as possible.