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Caregiver Tips: The Case for Oral Hygiene

Last updated: November 2022

From an early age, we're told to brush our teeth twice a day to prevent cavities. Then when we get a bit older, floss and mouthwash are added in! Let's be honest, very few of us do every single step every single time, but at least we're aware it's necessary.

Over time, individuals with Alzheimer's disease may find it challenging to complete all the steps of oral care, or recall that they even need to do it.

As a speech-language pathologist, I have had caregivers ask me how they can assist their loved ones in the later stages. This is typically when their loved one is living in a care facility or requires round-the-clock nursing care at home. Their loved one's ability to do any daily living routines is severely limited.

My suggestion is to try and help with oral hygiene. Here's why.

What is oral hygiene?

Like it or not, our mouths are full of germs. By taking care of our oral health, we can keep other parts of our bodies healthy.

Oral hygiene is the practice of making sure everything in your mouth is clean: teeth, gums, and tongue. If one of these areas is neglected for too long, bacteria begin to grow. When we eat or drink, all of those food particles and liquids touch our mouth. The growing bacteria latches onto the food and travels down our throats and into our stomachs, or worse, our lungs.

These traveling germs could lead to illness – not something anybody wants on top of the daily struggles of Alzheimer's.

Establishing a routine

First, I suggest establishing a routine as early as possible. Figure out a specific time or times during the day that works best for your home schedule.

Next, choose the tools that you and your loved one are most comfortable with. This could be an electric toothbrush, manual toothbrush, loose floss, or floss picks. If those items have been deemed unsafe by a medical professional (doctor, dentist, speech-language pathologist, etc.), toothpaste may be the way to go. Then, take your time cleaning and have a little patience. Your loved one may be resistant to the help. Someone poking and prodding in your mouth is uncomfortable.

Using a mouthwash is great, unless it has been deemed unsafe due to the potential to swallow it. Please don't force things. Also, always check with a medical professional before making any changes to an individual's care.

Giving it your best effort

Unless you're a professional, chances are you won't be able to clean every nook and cranny in your loved one's mouth. The important thing is to try. Gently explaining the process and talking your loved one through each step may help ease resistance. We can all appreciate the feeling of fresh breath and a clean mouth. And we all want to avoid getting sick. Helping your loved one with oral hygiene is a small gesture that can go a long way.

Let us know how these tips worked for you in the comments below, or share your experience with the community.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AlzheimersDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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