Recently, as I was doing house calls in the San Francisco Bay Area, I visited a patient whose dentures were caked with plaque. Those dentures spoke volumes. Often, a patient with dementia will not let caregivers near their mouth. After a hospitalization of several weeks or months, the last thing a family may be thinking about is tooth brushing and flossing. Remember that dental issues can become serious problems: It goes way beyond bad breath and cavities. Poor dental hygiene can lead to life-threatening infections. It can result in lost teeth, discomfort, difficulty eating.
One way to get “buy in” from your elder is to let them hold the toothbrush. Stand behind the elder and help them to guide the brush or floss where it needs to go.
Elders may also respond if you wear a surgical mask and act as if you’re a professional hygienist. It depends on personality, but some elders respond to that kind of “authority.”