A common issue seen in many late-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is a complete lack of oral hygiene, where the simple task of brushing their teeth is completely forgotten or has perhaps become too cumbersome.
Here are a few considerations and tips to help with oral hygiene:
Prioritise Daily Oral Care
In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, preventative care is paramount when it comes to oral hygiene. This includes getting regular check-ups, thorough brushing, mouth washing and flossing to prevent painful procedures at a later stage when a loved one or care receiver may not be able to process or understand what’s going on.
In the more advanced stages of these diseases, oral hygiene may become a little more complicated, but it is still vital. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia may forget the use of a toothbrush or what a toothbrush even looks like – let alone how to use it. This is where a step-by-step process to daily oral hygiene comes in:
- Brush teeth twice a day, after main meals and evening medication has been taken.
- Look out for signs of loss of appetite, which could signal pain in the mouth or issues with dentures.
- Provide simple instructions, which are easy to understand when it comes to brushing teeth. Use a step-by-step approach, physically explaining what a toothbrush is.
- Use explanatory phrases such as: ‘’Hold your toothbrush’’, ‘’Put toothpaste on the brush’’, ‘’Put the toothbrush in your mouth and brush’’
- If these simple instructions do not register, you can use a ‘’copy me’’ technique. Show them how to do it yourself, or guide their hand to show them how it’s done.
- If it comes to brushing their teeth for them, make sure they are not in an agitated state beforehand. Make sure to hold the brush at a 45 degree angle and be gentle!
- If flossing is not an agitating or confusing task, floss as regularly as possible.
- Try and avoid electric toothbrushes as these can be even more confusing to understand or handle for late-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
- Remember to recognise signals of mouth pain i.e. wincing, groaning or trouble eating. It’s important to investigate the source of this pain and visit a dentist if needs be.
If your loved one or care receiver wears dentures, make sure to rinse them in water after each meal in order to remove left-over bits of food.
It’s important to remove dentures overnight, rinse and leave in a mouthwash solution to soak. Once dentures have been removed for the evening, cleaning their gums is also vital. It’s best to use a soft toothbrush or moistened gauze. Soft-bristled children’s toothbrushes often work best for this!
As a caregiver, this is where daily routine needs to be established and a more hands-on approach must be adopted. Oral hygiene and dental care is extremely important in the elderly in order to help prevent further difficulties with eating, digestive problems and oral infections.