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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 08:00

Dental Care and Dementia

With the inevitable progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, a loved one or care receiver may forget simple, everyday tasks and their importance. While brushing your teeth, bathing and even clipping your toe nails may seem like the most ordinary, mundane tasks – these daily habits may become a little more complicated for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

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. 

Denture Care

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.

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