How to Help Someone with Alzheimer’s Brush Their Teeth

Brushing someone’s teeth is difficult

If you’ve ever tried to help someone with Alzheimer’s brush their teeth, you know it’s incredibly difficult.

Very few people are willing to sit quietly and allow someone else to stick things in their mouth. Think of how you’d react if someone tried to do that to you! They’re not trying to be difficult, it’s human instinct to resist.


Poor dental care leads to unwanted complications

However, if your older adult has Alzheimer’s or dementia and can’t properly brush their own teeth, they’ll need your help. Otherwise, their dental health will suffer and that will lead to unwanted complications.

Aside from the health problems associated with poor dental health, can you imagine having to take your senior with dementia to get a cavity filled or tooth extracted? Nightmare!!


Dementia care expert shows how to brush someone else’s teeth

Teepa Snow is a leading expert in dementia care. She has impressive credentials and when you watch her videos, you can clearly see why she’s in such high demand as a dementia educator. She really knows what she’s talking about!

In this 2 minute video, Teepa shows how to successfully brush someone else’s teeth by calming and distracting those natural instincts to resist. She demonstrates on an audience volunteer and explains why her techniques work.


Teepa’s 3 key tips for brushing someone’s teeth

It’s best to watch the brief video to see Teepa’s techniques in action so you can use them yourself, but here’s a summary of her 3 key tips from the video.

  1. Stand on their dominant side – for example, it’s the right side if someone is right handed
  2. You hold the toothbrush, but they hold your hand that’s holding the brush. You’re controlling the motions, but since their hand is there, their brain thinks they’re doing the brushing themselves.
  3. Put your hand on that dominant side shoulder and apply gentle downward pressure while brushing. This takes their attention away from what’s happening in their mouth.


Why Teepa’s technique works

While she’s demonstrating, Teepa explains why these techniques help you successfully brush someone else’s teeth.

She also shows the natural reactions that happen when you don’t use her techniques. Those natural reactions are what you’ve been fighting against if you’ve tried this before.


Bottom line

It’s essential for dental health and overall health to regularly brush your older adult’s teeth. But when someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, they need help to brush their teeth properly. Teepa Snow’s techniques help you get that difficult job done with a minimum of fuss.


Next Step  Use Teepa’s genius techniques to help your senior brush their teeth (2 min)


You might also like:
3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
Buck & Buck Specialized Senior Clothing Solves Dressing Problems
Why Experts Recommend Lying to Someone with Dementia


By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Video / Image: Pines Education Institute of Southwest Florida


  • Reply February 21, 2018


    How do you brush the teeth of a Dementia person who bites the toothbrush and has forgotten how to spit outhouse the toothpaste?
    My mom swallows the toothpaste and bites the toothbrush😊. Therefore I am unable to clean her teeth or her breath. She swallows the mouth wash as well.

    • Reply February 23, 2018


      That’s a great question and a tough situation that will need some creative experimenting.

      For the toothpaste, it may be safer to use a smaller amount (like a grain of rice) and to switch to a children’s toothpaste that’s meant to be swallowed in small amounts without harm. Mouthwash may be too difficult at this point. Plain water may be better for rinsing because it’s safe if swallowed.

      It may help to demonstrate the tooth brushing on yourself in an exaggerated way so she can easily see how it’s done. For example, point to yourself, then open your mouth wide and show her your exaggerated brushing movements while your mouth is open. Then, point to her so she knows it’s her turn. Open your mouth to show what she should do and point to her. If there’s another person there, you could demonstrate brushing their teeth (just a little) to show that you’re brushing everyone’s teeth so it’s “”normal”” that you do hers. When brushing her teeth (assuming you can get that far), you may need to do it in sections to make it more comfortable. It can be tiring or uncomfortable to hold the mouth open for too long. Often, showing/demonstrating works much better than telling since it’s processed differently by the brain. It’s easier to copy someone’s actions.

      I also found a couple of products that might help. Toothette swabs could be used instead of a toothbrush (hopefully she won’t bite them) —
      Dip the swab into this solution to wipe the surface of teeth, gums, and inside the mouth —

      It seems like Perox-a-Mint is used in hospital and similar settings and is safe when someone can no longer rinse or spit. Here are some reviews for the same product, one is from someone using it on someone with Alzheimer’s (this is an old/discontinued product link) —

      If she’s not likely to bite your finger, you could try wrapping a thin cloth around a finger (with a tiny bit of toothpaste on it) and gently scrubbing at her teeth.

      This may also be a phase that will hopefully pass soon. I hope some of these solutions will help.

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