Denture Care, How to Clean Someone Else's Icky Teeth

dentures holding rose

Do you know what they DON'T tell you before you come a care aide or a caregiver? They don't tell you that at some point, you may have to hold someone's teeth in your hands. 

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Its vaguely mentioned in the "personal grooming" section. It doesn't really highlight the joy you feel the first time someone plops a set of dentures in your hand right after they've eaten a bowl of chili. Or, (ick) spinach. 

Luckily, I was no stranger to dentures, and really, they don't bother me.  Some people really do freak out at the thought of touching them, though. 

It WAS strange to have to clean them for the first time, but it is an important part of caregiving that shouldn't be overlooked, and hopefully this guide will help you feel more comfortable about taking on this task.  

A Little About Denture Health

Some elders choose to wear their teeth all the time. Others may rarely insert them unless they are eating or "going out". No matter how often they are worn, dentures should fit well. 

If someone does NOT like wearing their dentures, a caregiver needs to find out whether or not this is a personal choice, or if it is because they are uncomfortable. 

A person's gums change over time, so dentures need to be checked often, and may even need to be replaced. Just like eyeglasses, a person may need a new set every year. 

If they aren't properly cared for, or if they have been damaged, dentures may need replacing even if they fit well. (They can actually get dull, which affects a senior's ability to eat well.) 

Dentures that fit poorly can cause jaw pain, gum soreness, difficulty chewing and swallowing, blisters, abrasions, and infections. It is recommended that dentures be removed for at least eight hours a day to allow the mouth rest. 

This should be done at night to prevent the person from grinding their teeth and eventually wearing down the mold. 

Its gross, but occasionally you will come across an elder who never takes their dentures out and never cleans them. Or they just set them on the bedside table and leave them to collect dust and germs between uses. 

One lady we cared for was convinced that if she cleaned her teeth too often they would wear out faster (like clothing), and she didn't want to buy another pair. 

As a caregiver, you may have a tough job educating an elder about the health risks of dirty dentures. 

Sometimes a person is just not able to take care of their teeth. They may not be able to see well, or they may be afraid they will drop the dentures and break them. 

Here is how you can help: 

Cleaning Dentures Step-By-Step

  •  Dentures should be cleaned at least once a day, but preferably after every meal. 

  •  Never use hot water to clean dentures. This can cause them to warp. 

1.  Lay a soft cloth or towel in the sink. This will protect the dentures if they slip from your hand. 

2.  Give them a quick rinse to dislodge the majority of food particles. 

3.  Use a very soft brush to gently brush (not scrub) the dentures. You can use a child's toothbrush with the softest bristles, but still remember to use a light touch. 

4.  If they are stained or particularly bad, you can use a mild dish soap to clean them. (Remember to rinse them very well!) You can also soak them before brushing them standard denture cleanser. 

5.  Store dentures in water overnight, or whenever they won't be worn for awhile. They can also warp and become brittle if they are allowed to remain dry too often. Store them in water (in a closed container) even if they have just been cleaned. 

6.  Always sanitize the denture cup and brush after each use. Do not store dentures in the same cup over and over again without cleaning! A regular plastic denture cup can be washed in hot, soapy water. It can be bleached if it becomes discolored. Keep a spare cup so that you can always have one clean. 

7.  Don't brush dentures while they are still in the mouth. You can't see what you are doing well enough, and you could damage the teeth or the gums when you move the dentures around. 

Also, dentures are not like real teeth. No matter how well they fit, they will get food underneath. This can lead to bad breath and infections if not cleaned. 

8.  After removing dentures, the owner needs to have his or her gums and tongue brushed gently to remove food and bacteria. Another myth people believe is that once you have false teeth, you never have to put a toothbrush in your mouth. In reality, you need to brush, and rinse with a mouthwash as recommended by your dentist. 

There! It wasn't so bad, was it? 

If you are new to caregiving and you've never touched a set of teeth, you may be surprised to learn that they don't feel "gummy" or slimy. They are hard plastic, just like your phone or computer mouse. Nothing gross there. 

If you still have reservations, ask your dentist demonstrate denture care for you. They usually have a model you can touch that has never been in someone's mouth. 

Oral Care for the Elderly

As well as cleaning dentures, caregivers should routinely examine the inside of the mouth. Look for red spots, white patches, sores, bumps, abscesses and anything else unusual. 

The elderly should also continue regular visits to the dentist. 

Things to Watch For: 

When assessing whether or not dentures may be uncomfortable (if the person can't or won't communicate the fact) or loose-fitting, watch and listen for: 

  • Clicking or sucking sound when talking or eating
  • Grinding
  • Fiddling with dentures (with hands or tongue)
  • Slurred speech
  • Refusal to eat or difficulty eating certain foods
  • Increased incidents of choking while eating 
  • Swallowing food whole rather than chewing
  • Excessive use of denture adhesive
  • Apathy
  • Mumbling or not joining in conversations
  • Refusal to wear dentures even if they are embarrassed to be seen without them

Don't Neglect Dentures

Caring for false teeth may not be your favorite task, but it is a vital part of caregiving. Dentures are also an expensive piece of equipment and need proper maintenance. 

It only takes a few minutes a day, but caring for your loved one's teeth can keep them healthy and safe.