Caring For Reluctant Seniors: Beyond the Basics

After the COVID-19  lockdown, I went back into long-term care facilities to provide hands-on care for the residents.  The residents’ mouths that we serviced were awful. I’m sorry, there are no other words for it.

Some residents did not even have toothbrushes in their rooms and could not remember the last time they had their teeth brushed. Plaque and tartar were everywhere; lips were chapped, and I even found black mold on one sweet lady’s dentures. Experiencing this broke my heart.

It pains me to think that they have been living like this for the past couple of months. Recalling this experience makes me emotional. I surveyed caregivers from facility to facility. They all told me the same thing “they have anxiety when they are brushing the patients’ teeth or extracting their dentures.”

I believe that this anxiety and fear comes from a lack of education and training as health care professionals.

As the Geriatric Tooth Fairy, I am here to ensure that caregivers in long-term facilities know how to properly provide dental assistance for senior citizens, even if the caregivers are dealing with reluctant elders. I’ve covered this subject widely in my book The Tooth and Nothing But The Truth, which is available for purchase on my website.

Here are some helpful tips on how to take care of reluctant seniors.

Be Patient If The Senior Are Not Receptive

Some patients, especially those with dementia, may not be receptive to having a caregiver clean their mouth. They may see it as an invasion of their personal space to which they may respond with combative behavior.

In situations like these, it may help to try to brush the elder’s teeth in a familiar environment or close to their personal items. You may also distract them with TV or soft music if they love entertainment.

You can ask another caregiver to clean the senior’s mouth as they may deliver a better response. The senior may particularly be more receptive to a spouse or grown child than an unfamiliar care worker.

No matter how difficult the situation is, don’t give up trying because oral care problems can lead to bigger health problems. Age increases the risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and cancer, which are the nation’s largest drivers of illness, disability, death, and healthcare costs, according to the CDC.

Position the Senior Properly

Gather all the supplies that you may need for your patient. Then, place the senior in the best physical condition to clean their teeth.

If the patient is bed-bound, drape them with a towel. Then, brush one section of their mouth. Flip the brush around and brush the other section.

The goal is to thoroughly clean the senior’s mouth while keeping them comfortable.

Make Sure Everyone Stays Safe

Another area to consider when providing dental assistance for senior citizens is the safety of the senior and yourself. If the elder is cleaning their own mouth, be sure you have the breaks on the wheelchair.


If you are attending to a senior who is not steady on their feet, make sure their tooth-cleaning supplies are easily accessible. This will prevent the seniors from having to reach for their supplies and potentially injuring themselves.

As the caregiver, try to position the patient so that you can access their mouth comfortably. If you are leaning over to clean their mouth, this is not good for your back.

When you get tired and stressed out when caring for the senior, just remember there are rewards that come with caregiving, such as:-

  • Feeling useful
  • Living a meaningful life
  • Achieving a sense of fulfillment

For more advice or talks on taking care of our greatest generation, Invite the Geriatric Tooth Fairy to offer training on how to care for our seniors.


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