Saturday, 1 May 2021


I remember helping my Mom brush her teeth - sometimes she was "too tired" or just not interested in doing her own personal care. Today it's my pleasure to host this informative guest post about how we caregivers can work together with dentists to ensure good oral health for our loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia. - Donna

To say that everyday life for people with dementia is challenging would be an understatement. 

Whether a person is living with Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, their condition will eventually cause problems with their thinking, behavior, and memory. Since dementia progresses over time, those living with it will gradually forget to do things in their daily lives that are otherwise routine, like taking care of their oral care needs. 

People with dementia may forget to brush their teeth. Some may even forget how to use one at all, especially when their condition is at an advanced stage. It’s also not unheard of for seniors living with dementia to forget to remove or clean their dentures regularly. 

Considering how important oral health is to a person’s overall health, people living with dementia will need help with their dental care routine, and their dentists and caregivers are going to play a crucial role in that regard. 

Helping Dementia Patients Brush Their Teeth 

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, you need to establish a dental care routine that they can get used to and follow day in and day out. 

If possible, you have to get your dementia care receiver to brush regularly, with or without your help. 

If your charge can still handle a toothbrush but forgot how it works, your best move is to grab your own toothbrush and demonstrate the entire process. While giving a tooth brushing demonstration, you would do well also to tell your loved one what you’re doing. That way, you’d be making your instructions both visual and audible, making the process easier for them to follow. If using their own toothbrush is out of the question, you will have to brush their teeth yourself. 

When brushing the teeth of a person with dementia, always: 

● Use a soft-bristled toothbrush—A toothbrush with rough bristles could prove to be uncomfortable. Then again, if even a soft-bristled toothbrush is too much for your charge’s delicate gums, a cotton swab or gauze wrapped around your finger should be a good enough substitute. 

● Do it with a smile—Any other expression on your face could make them feel threatened and lead to a temper tantrum or outburst. A gentle voice would help, too. 

● Inform your charge what you’re doing next—A person with dementia could get surprised if you suddenly shift—without a word—from brushing the front teeth to cleaning their tongue, resulting in confusion and even potential trauma. 

The Importance of Dental Visits 

Regular visits to the dentist are an integral part of oral care. However, in people with dementia, dental visits could prove to be tricky, as the whole experience could turn out to be overwhelming for them. Some of the things dentists need to do when providing dental care for dementia patients include: 

● Creating a dementia-friendly dental office environment—Better lighting, minimal noise, seats that allow their caregivers to sit with them, handrails for safety, playing music they like, etc. 

● Setting an appropriate amount of time for the appointment—A dental appointment for a person with dementia may take longer because everyone needs to proceed gingerly through the process to avoid agitating the patient. 

● Communicating effectively—Keep language simple, and explain your oral care and treatment plan with a smile. 

● Having extra patience—Attending to the dental needs of a dementia patient has its own set of challenges. Dentists need a surplus of patience and a good understanding of the condition to provide dental care without any incident. 

Things To Remember When Helping People With Dementia Clean Their Teeth 

Before dentists and caregivers dive into helping a person living with dementia with their oral care, there are several things they need to keep in mind. Those with dementia are more prone to dental issues because they forget to brush their teeth and because their mouths tend to dry up, no thanks to the medications they take regularly. Saliva is crucial to keeping tooth decay at bay, as it washes off sugar in the mouth and prevents acids from wearing out tooth enamel. Reduced saliva production in people with dementia means sugar and acids will have a field day wreaking havoc on their oral health. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that persons living with dementia will have a hard time communicating that they’re experiencing a certain degree of oral pain. After all, dementia can impact a person’s speech as the condition progresses. That makes spotting the following signs that a person with dementia is suffering oral pain extremely important: 

● Incessant moaning or yelling 
● Making faces while chewing food 
● Nonstop pulling at the face or mouth 
● Refusing to open mouth for cleaning 
● Hostile behavior 
● Not eating hot or cold food 
● Lack of sleep 
● Biting their lips and inner cheeks 
● Swollen cheek due to possible tooth abscess 

The dental care of a person living with dementia is often a collaborative effort between caregivers and dentists. By working together, caregivers and dentists can come up with a plan that takes care of a dementia patient’s oral care needs, which helps assure them of a better quality of life. 

About the Author 

Dr. Megan Peterson Boyle is the lead cosmetic dentist with Dental Studio 101 in Scotsdale, Arizona. She is focused on providing anxiety-free cosmetic dentistry services including invisalign, dental implants, dental crowns and cosmetic fillings. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her friends and family.

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