Why Do Dementia Patients Keep Their Mouths Open?

Why do dementia patients keep their mouths open? Explore the causes behind this behavior and learn strategies for managing it compassionately.

Many dementia patients show open mouth behavior. This could be because of changes in the brain, problems with swallowing, or making less spit.1 It’s very important to figure out why this happens. Knowing the cause helps us take better care of them and avoid health problems.

Key Takeaways

  • Open mouth behavior in dementia patients can be caused by neurological changes, impaired swallowing reflexes, and reduced saliva production.
  • Understanding the underlying causes is essential for providing effective care and managing the associated health risks.
  • Dementia patients may exhibit care-resistant behavior due to perceived threats, which can contribute to the open mouth behavior.
  • Maintaining proper oral hygiene is critical for preventing systemic health issues and improving the quality of life for dementia patients.
  • Caregivers should seek support and utilize available resources to manage the challenges of caring for a dementia patient with open mouth behavior.

Understanding Dementia and Behavioral Changes

Dementia is a brain disorder that affects memory, thinking, and actions.1 It gets worse over time, causing big changes in how the brain works. This leads to issues like getting upset easily, feeling lost, or not wanting help.2

Neurological Impacts of Dementia

The brain changes with dementia can really affect how a person acts and thinks.2 Over time, important parts of the brain can get damaged. This makes it hard for someone to understand things, control their feelings, and react well to what’s happening.2

Common Behavioral Challenges in Dementia Patients

People with dementia often show changes in how they behave. This can include feeling more worried, doing the same things over and over, or acting without thinking.2 These changes happen because the brain is different. It’s not just about getting older. It’s key to know why these things are happening to help them better. For example, some might keep their mouth open a lot, and it’s important to know how to deal with that.2

Causes of Open Mouth Behavior in Dementia

Many things can cause people with dementia to keep their mouths open. A big reason is they have a hard time swallowing properly. This makes it tough for them to keep their mouths shut.1 They also might not make enough saliva, which is needed to keep the mouth moist. So, their mouths stay open.1 These issues, both nerve-related and physical, often go together. They show up as the open mouth behavior we see in dementia patients.

Impaired Swallowing Reflexes

As dementia gets worse, it’s harder for patients to swallow right. This can cause them to keep their mouths open.1 Trouble with swallowing is a main reason for the open mouth habit in people with dementia.

Reduced Saliva Production

People with dementia might not make as much saliva.1 Since saliva helps keep the mouth wet, not having enough can keep their mouths open. This is why many of them often have their mouths open.

why do dementia patients keep their mouths open

The open mouth behavior in dementia patients is linked to changes in the brain. This affects how they perceive threats and control their actions.1 Over time, their brain, especially the areas like the hippocampus and cortical structures, degenerates. This makes it hard for them to judge and react to threats properly.1 So, even simple tasks like taking care of their mouth might cause a fear reaction. It can push them into a ‘fight-or-flight’ state.1 Also, because they lose the ability to control their actions, keeping their mouth shut may be tough. Even though they know they should, they can’t always do it.1

Neurological Changes and Threat Perception

In dementia, the brain’s decline affects how these patients see and react to possible threats.1 They might fear daily care activities, thinking they’re dangerous. This makes them more likely to have their mouth open in fear.

Loss of Cognitive Control over Behaviors

Another important reason for open mouths in dementia is the loss of control.1 As their brain keeps getting worse, it’s harder for them to shut their mouths. They can sometimes be aware of it but still struggle. This can be frustrating as they might want to keep their mouth closed.

neurological changes dementia

Oral Hygiene Challenges in Dementia Patients

Keeping oral hygiene right is hard for many with dementia. This problem can make open mouth behavior worse.1 Over time, these patients are more likely to face dental issues like gum disease and cavities. They often don’t get the regular care they need.1

It’s tough for them to do self-care tasks like brushing their teeth. This can cause their oral health to go downhill.3 Bad oral health can then affect their whole body, showing why tackling open mouth behavior is key.

Increased Risk of Dental Issues

Because of memory loss and problems judging things, dementia patients can find daily tasks hard, like taking care of their teeth.3 As the disease gets worse, they might forget how to care for their teeth. They can also have trouble using a toothbrush properly.3

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Not taking care of their teeth can lead to cavities and tooth loss. It’s so crucial for them to brush with fluoride toothpaste regularly and watch the sugar.3 Many also get gum diseases that make their gums sore. Having a dry mouth is common and makes it tough to eat, speak, and swallow.3

Difficulty with Self-Care Tasks

Many dementia patients just don’t care about their oral health. They might forget dental visits and find it hard to get dental work.3 Some might wear down their teeth, making them hurt when eating certain foods.3 Not being able to eat well because of their mouth can make them lose weight and not get the nutrition they need. This is a serious issue.3

Not fixing dental problems, like abscesses, can be very painful. People with dementia might not be able to tell others about their pain if they’re suffering.3

For dementia patients, making sure they keep their mouth clean is vital to avoid bad health problems. These include pneumonia, heart issues, and high blood sugar.1 By understanding their needs and giving them specific care, we can help them feel better overall.

Health Risks Associated with Open Mouth Behavior

Dementia patients often exhibit open mouth behavior. This can lead to serious health risks like aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, and malnutrition.1 Saliva, food, and liquids might accidentally get into the airway, which is aspiration pneumonia. It’s a dangerous condition that can be life-threatening.1 Having the mouth open also makes it harder to swallow properly. This can lead to not getting enough to drink or eat, putting them at risk for dehydration and malnutrition. These issues can greatly harm their health.1

Aspiration Pneumonia

With an open mouth, dementia patients face a higher chance of getting aspiration pneumonia. This lung infection happens when they breathe in food, liquids, or saliva.1 It’s a severe condition, especially for those with dementia. It can cause breathing problems, hospital stays, and could even be deadly.1

Dehydration and Malnutrition

An open mouth also makes it difficult for dementia patients to eat and drink enough.1 This leads to dehydration and malnourishment, further hurting their health.1 These two conditions can make other health issues worse. They’re more likely to get sick and have a lower quality of life.1

It’s vital to address the risks of open mouth behavior in dementia.1 Caregivers can lower these risks by looking at the reasons behind this behavior and using the right plans. This can make life better for those with dementia.1

Strategies for Managing Open Mouth Behavior

To handle open mouth behavior in dementia patients, we should take a mix of steps. These include making the environment calming, gently reminding them, and helping with oral hygiene.1

Creating a Calm and Comfortable Environment

It’s crucial to keep the patient’s surroundings calm and without too much going on. This can lessen their stress and fear, which often lead to open mouth behavior.1 Caregivers play a big part in this by making a peaceful, familiar space. This helps the patient feel more relaxed, preventing them from opening their mouth excessively.

Gentle Reminders and Redirection

Using soft words and gently steering the conversation can get the patient to close their mouth.1 Caregivers might say, “Sweetheart, could you close your mouth for me?” then shift the focus to a new topic. This takes their mind off the behavior without making them upset.

Oral Hygiene Assistance

Taking part in the patient’s oral care is key for their overall health and dealing with open mouth issues.1 Working with dentists is important for charting out a plan for oral health. They can help caregivers know the best ways to brush the patient’s teeth. This keeps their mouth in good shape.

With these approaches, caregivers can better handle open mouth behavior in dementia patients. They can also help in dealing with oral health problems. This improves the life quality of those facing this condition.

Care-Resistant Behaviors and Threat Perception

In dementia patients, the behavior of open mouths points to a big issue. This issue deals with care-resistant behaviors. They can be looked at through the eyes of threat perception and fear.1 How resistant a patient is to care goes up as their dementia gets worse.1 Patients might find everyday caregiving tasks, like taking care of their mouth, scary. This fear leads to them not wanting to cooperate with care.

Understanding the Fear Response

The system in our brain that spots threats and generates fear is key here.1 It protects us by making us act fast to avoid danger. But in dementia, this system doesn’t work as well. So, tasks that might seem small to us, like taking care of their mouth, can be very scary for them.

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Reducing Perceived Threats during Caregiving

Knowing why someone with dementia might be afraid helps caregivers. They can use ways to make the person feel less scared.4 This approach targets lowering the fear and threat they feel during mouth care.5 For instance, using pain relief creams can help a lot. And so can methods that distract or comfort the patient, like using comforting words or actions.

Caregiver Tips for Open Mouth Dementia

Caring for someone with dementia who shows open mouth behavior needs a special approach. It’s important to have patience. Their ability to control actions might be limited because of changes in the brain.1

Patience and Compassion

Dealing with open mouth behavior in dementia patients requires patience and a caring attitude. They find it hard to control their face and movements. This is because their brain is slowly getting worse, especially in areas like the hippocampus. Approaching them with empathy helps create a peaceful atmosphere. This can make them feel less threatened and act negative less.1

Consistent Routines

A good way to manage the open mouth behavior is by keeping regular activities. Doing things in familiar ways helps them feel secure. It also lowers their anxiety. Keeping a set routine encourages them to mind their oral hygiene better.

Gently reminding them to close their mouths can be quite helpful.

Involving a Dental Professional

Talking to a dentist or a dental hygienist can really improve things. They can look into the patient’s oral health and give treatments. They also help in keeping the mouth clean.1 This can prevent severe health problems like pneumonia from poor oral health in dementia patients.

The Importance of Oral Hygiene in Dementia Care

Keeping the mouth clean is key in caring for someone with dementia. It greatly impacts their health and how they live.1 If oral health is neglected, it can cause problems like pneumonia, heart issues, and metabolic disorders.1

Preventing Systemic Health Issues

Good oral care can stop many health problems before they start.1 Often, people in nursing homes with dementia don’t get the oral care they need.1 This leads to high rates of tooth loss and gum disease.

Less than great oral care is also a big risk for pneumonia. By improving mouth care, we could prevent a lot of pneumonia cases.1

Improving Quality of Life

Looking after the mouth doesn’t just stop health problems. It also makes life better for the patient.1 For example, losing teeth from gum disease can make eating and swallowing hard. This can lead to not getting enough nutrients.

But, taking good care of the teeth means the patient can eat well and feel good. It improves their life and well-being.1

Seeking Support for Dementia Caregivers

Caring for someone with dementia can take a big toll. Especially when they exhibit open mouth behavior. It’s crucial for caregivers to find help and use all the resources available.6

Respite Care Options

There are breaks available for caregivers like adult day programs. These places give caregivers the time they need to refresh. They also allow them to look after their own well-being. This care can also benefit the person with dementia.

Support Groups and Resources

Support groups and educational help can be very useful. They offer useful tips, emotional support, and other strategies.7 Caregivers can pick up new skills to help their loved ones, while they also take care of themselves.

Getting help from respite care and support groups is like a lifeline for caregivers. It supports them in managing the challenges of open mouth behavior. This help is key for helping caregivers maintain their health too.7 With these resources, caregivers can give the best care possible to those they love.

Dementia Mouth Open Symptoms and Stages

Open mouth behavior in dementia changes as the disease progresses. In the beginning, it may not be a huge issue. That’s because the patient still has some control and knows they are doing it.1 But, as the disease moves to later stages, this can get more obvious and harder to deal with. This is due to brain changes and the person losing control over their actions.1 Knowing how dementia affects open mouth habits can help caregivers prepare for what’s coming.

Early-Stage Dementia

At the start, the open mouth issue is easier to handle. People with dementia might still understand and try to fix it if reminded gently.1 Caregivers can use simple hints and guide the person to close their mouth. They sometimes can cooperate with these efforts.

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Middle-Stage Dementia

By the middle stage, open mouth behavior could be more of a problem.1 The brain changes make it harder for the person to control their mouth. Help from caregivers might not be enough.1 To deal with this, offering a calming atmosphere and helping with mouth care is important.

Late-Stage Dementia

In the late stages, keeping the mouth closed is extremely hard for the person.1 They may not be able to do it themselves. Caregivers need to check the mouth, use special care methods, and work with doctors. This is to keep the person comfortable and avoid health issues.

Addressing Open Mouth Dementia with Compassion

When dealing with those with dementia and open mouth behavior, showing compassion is key. It’s vital to understand the person and their struggles.8 Dementia is a disease that affects the brain. Over time, it can cause problems with thinking and speaking. This can lead to behaviors like open mouth.8

Maintaining Dignity and Respect

It’s very important to treat these patients with dignity and respect. They might feel embarrassed because of their behavior.8 Sadly, people with advanced dementia are not very social. This can be tough for their caregivers.8 Caregivers should look deeper. They need to see the person, not just the behavior. This approach helps in finding the real needs of the patient.

Understanding the Person Behind the Behavior

Having a caring attitude helps both the patient and the caregiver.8 Trying different ways to communicate, like Intensive Interaction, can keep patients more active.8 It’s crucial to see the person, not the action. This way, caregivers can really help those with dementia.


In conclusion, the open mouth behavior in dementia patients is not simple. It comes from many things like changes in the brain, trouble with swallowing, and less saliva.1 Knowing why it happens and what health problems it can cause is very important. This helps in caring for them better and making their lives as good as possible.

To help with this, a calm and cozy place is key. Using gentle reminders and steering their attention can work. It’s also good to get help from dentists. This group effort can help manage their open mouth habit and keep their mouths clean.9

Support for the people taking care of them is crucial too. Compassion and focusing on the patient’s needs are vital. Working together, we can make a big difference in their lives. Preventing serious health issues and making them happier makes all the work worthwhile.


Why do dementia patients keep their mouths open?

Several reasons cause dementia patients to keep their mouths open. These include trouble swallowing, less saliva, and brain changes. These changes impact how they see threats and control their actions.

What are the common symptoms of open mouth in dementia?

Dementia patients often show signs like not being able to close their mouths. They might drool a lot. They could also find it hard to eat, drink, and keep their teeth clean.

What causes open mouth in dementia patients?

Impaired swallowing, low saliva, and brain changes lead to open mouth. These issues affect perceiving threats and behavior control.

Why do dementia patients have an open mouth?

Neurological changes, trouble swallowing, and less saliva make it hard to keep the mouth closed. This can lead to keeping the mouth open.

What are the risks of open mouth in dementia patients?

Keeping the mouth open can increase pneumonia risk. It can also lead to dehydration and malnutrition. These issues can harm the patient’s health further.

How can caregivers manage open mouth behavior in dementia patients?

To help manage this, create a calm space. Use gentle reminders and help with oral care. Also, a dental professional can check for any oral health issues.

How does open mouth behavior relate to care-resistant behaviors in dementia?

It connects to resisting care. Patients might find help with mouth care scary. This fear leads to the open mouth response.

What are the caregiver tips for managing open mouth in dementia patients?

To manage, be patient and caring. Stick to a regular routine. Also, involve a dentist to care for oral health.

How can oral hygiene be improved for dementia patients with open mouth?

To better oral hygiene, target the root causes. Help with brushing and other care directly. This is vital for their health.

How does the open mouth behavior change across the stages of dementia?

The open mouth issue varies in each dementia stage. Early on, it’s milder and simpler to handle. Later, it can worsen and be harder to manage.

Source Links

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3298085/
  2. https://www.lbda.org/understanding-behavioral-changes-in-dementia/
  3. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/dental-mouth-care
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3231974/
  5. https://www.iadvanceseniorcare.com/mouth-care-reducing-resistant-behaviors/
  6. https://www.memorycafedirectory.com/how-caregivers-can-help-dementia-patients-take-care-of-their-teeth/
  7. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/dementia-support-understanding-changing-behaviour-mealtimes
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5538738/
  9. https://bmcoralhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6831-11-30