- If LBD* is involved, they may have forgotten the steps involved in brushing. "Do I put the toothpaste on the brush before or after I rinse it off?" "How do I brush?" "What do I do with all the fluid and foamy toothpaste that ends up in my mouth?"
- Age, illness, some medications and dementia itself can decrease saliva output, creating "dry mouth" which can make toothpaste and mouthwash taste different, and possibly unpleasant. The efficiency of taste buds also fades with age, changing the person's taste preferences.
- Your loved one may no longer understand the need for brushing and may not want to be bothered, especially since they may need to be helped to do it correctly.
- Monitor your attitude. Make this as fun as you can and it will be much more pleasant for both of you. Try not to argue or be bossy. If, for instance, it feels awkward to do something so personal for a parent, get over it. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the PlwD will be--and the more accepting of your help.
- To address the dry mouth issue, have your loved one rinse their mouth with water right before starting care.
- Have them sit in a comfortable chair with you seated slightly behind them.
- Use a soft toothbrush to gently but thoroughly brush their teeth.
- Be careful not to tilt back the head when you brush. This can cause aspiration of liquid into the lungs.
- An electric toothbrush is usually faster than doing it by hand and therefore, less annoying. If the noise of the brush or the vibrations produced by the fast-moving bristles is upsetting, you may have to revert to using a regular toothbrush.
- Experiment with toothpastes and mouthwashes to find ones the PlwD likes. Brushing without toothpaste is still very effective. Mouthwashes help to control bacteria, but may irritate the gums. Try diluting the mouthwash with some water or else try another brand. Stop using mouthwash if it becomes an issue.
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LBD: Lewy body dementia
PD: Parkinson's disease
DLB: dementia with Lewy bodies
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia
MCI: mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia
For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.