Caring for Someone with Dementia: Dental Hygiene and Treatment
Supporting daily oral hygiene, understanding when treatment is needed and getting proper dental care for someone with dementia can be challenging.
Dementia describes a group of symptoms that affect cognitive function, interferes with normal activities and relationships, according to the Dementia Society of America. Though it is often only associated with memory loss, it also impairs the ability to solve problems, control emotions and speak.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or memory loss is a delicate matter. Their needs health care change daily, and they aren’t always able to identify or describe their physical ailments. It’s important for caregivers to know how to assist them with regular hygiene, spot the warning signs of a dental problem and get them the treatment needed.
Common Dental Problems Affecting Seniors
Gum disease, tooth decay and cavities are common afflictions for seniors, which cause pain. For someone with dementia, it may not be easy to identify the problem before it develops into an infection or abscess. Poor oral care and an unbalanced diet can increase the likelihood of developing these dental diseases. Using a disinfecting mouthwash can help prevent infection in the mouth and gum tissues.
Oral cancer is more common among the elderly than any other age group. With early diagnosis, however, treatment has a high success rate. This is another reason why regular visits to the dentist are important for those with their natural teeth and with dentures.
Supporting Regular Oral Hygiene for Someone with Dementia
Maintaining teeth and gums is important at every stage of life. For older people, oral health is key to feeling well and supporting a nutritious diet. Good oral hygiene is the best prevention for poor dental health, pain, tooth loss and functional problems. Here are some easy tips for caregivers in helping someone with dementia to keep up with oral hygiene.
Consistency can help people with memory problems to feel more sure about activities. Set up a fixed daily routine that involves brushing and flossing teeth.
- Encourage a healthy diet to help prevent tooth decay.
- Restrict sugar consumed throughout the day to mealtimes. Then, brushing teeth after meals or drinking high-calorie meal supplements can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.
- Break instructions down into clear, smaller tasks, such as “Put toothpaste on the brush.” Then, “Brush your teeth.” Next, “Rinse your mouth out.”
- Demonstrate and assist with brushingand flossingas needed.
- It may be easier to use an electric toothbrush or a specialized toothbrush for assisted brushing.
- Be sure that dentures are rinsed after meals. They should be removed before bedtime, cleaned and soaked every night.
- Schedule cleaning appointments with the dentist in advance and stay up to date with regular visits.
In the early stages of dementia, most hygiene activities can be carried out independently with a bit of reminding or supervision. For long-term care, as their condition progresses, caregivers will need to be more involved in keeping up these activities.
Understanding the Signs of a Dental Problem
Attending to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be challenging because communication is difficult. They may not be able to tell you when they have a problem or describe any discomfort they experience. Caregivers need to pay attention for signs of dental pain or other problems, including:
- Bleeding gums;
- Avoiding meals;
- Refusing to eat hard, hot or cold food;
- Expressing discomfort while chewing;
- Continually touching or pulling at their cheeks or mouth;
- Not wearing their dentures;
- Physical restlessness;
- Verbal indication of pain.
Whenever there is an inexplicable or sudden change in behavior, you should consult with a doctor.
Getting Patients with Dementia Proper Dental Treatment
If treatment is recommended, discuss your concerns about managing care leading up to, during, and after the procedure. Together you can discuss the treatment options and decide on the best course of action.
It’s important to prepare for the possibility that unfamiliar surroundings may increase confusion or agitation. Before going to the dentist’s office, discuss the appointment and procedure with the patient. On the day of the procedure, they should be accompanied by someone they know and trust. For those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it can be very reassuring to have someone familiar nearby.
Root canals, crowns, bridges, and implants require more attention following the procedure. The caregiver should oversee daily hygiene and aftercare for the person with dementia. These types of invasive procedures may not be recommended for patients in the later stages of dementia unless it’s an emergency. The dentist will likely recommend only preventative hygiene and maintaining comfort at that point.
For a variety of dental procedures, sedation dentistry can help ensure that having dental work done is not a distressing experience. The various sedation options assist the patient in feeling calm and comfortable. Especially for elderly patients, sedation is usually a safer option than full anesthesia.
More helpful information: Hygiene for Seniors with Dental Complications.
Gentle Dental Care
You can trust the professional team at Briglia Dental Group to be patient and gentle. We care for all kinds of patients and our priority is always to understand their needs and develop a personalized treatment plan. Call our office to request a consultation at (610) 692-4440.