As one gets older, more and more challenges arise when it comes to having a healthy mouth. When patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dental care becomes even more difficult. However, everyone deserves to receive proper oral care as it is essential to overall health and wellbeing.
As a dentist who has been practicing for nearly 20 years, it’s my goal to educate other dentists and caretakers on how to help elderly patients have the best dental health. That’s why I’ve created this overview of care about how to help a patient with Alzheimer’s take care of their teeth.
Dental Issues in Patients with Alzheimer’s
There are some common dental issues that someone with Alzheimer’s may experience. Especially since these individuals may not remember to brush their teeth, or forget how to use a toothbrush and toothpaste. It can also be more difficult to notice if someone with Alzheimer’s is experiencing mouth pain.
Some common dental issues to look for at dental check-ups include:
- Cavities: If a dental care routine is neglected, bacteria can begin to build up and wear away the enamel causing cavities.
- Broken teeth: This can be severe or minor but should be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid any further issues. If ignored, broken teeth can cause more serious infections in the mouth.
- Abscessed teeth: An abscessed tooth is an infection inside the tooth that can spread to the gums. It’s very painful and can spread quickly so be sure to seek care if you believe a loved one may be suffering from an abscess.
- Dry mouth: Dry mouth is a common symptom seen in patients with Alzheimer’s and is a result of the mouth not making enough saliva. Left untreated, it can lead to ulcers, sores, and cavities.
- Bad breath: Bad breath can be caused by poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, infections, medications, and certain foods.
Because of these issues, it’s important for somebody with Alzheimer’s to try and maintain a daily oral care routine as well as receive regular cleanings and exams from a dental professional.
Ensuring a Successful Visit
Visiting the dentist can often be an overwhelming and difficult experience for a patient with Alzheimer’s. That’s why dentists should work together with caretakers and loved ones to ensure a successful visit.
Here are some of the best tips for both caretakers and dentists:
- Send the patient a reminder at least one day in advance.
- Determine the patient’s best time of the day and schedule appointments accordingly.
- Make sure the patient empties their bladder before the appointment.
- Maintain a quiet and private environment.
- Keep the appointment length to a minimum (no longer than 45 minutes).
- Be sure to check if the practice does or does not accept the patient’s dental insurance.
One thing that dental professionals should do is provide clear follow-up instructions to the patient and caregiver. Always keep the patients’ needs in mind and don’t give up on working towards providing them with better care. If it is difficult for a patient to travel to the dental office, consider reaching out to a traveling or at-home dentist to schedule an appointment in the comfort of the patient’s own home.
Tips for Caregivers
Caregivers can be the greatest form of support when it comes to dental care for patients with Alzheimer’s. As a dentist, try meeting with caregivers regularly to help them work on taking preventative dental care measures at home as it’s one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. An effective oral care routine includes brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash. If a patient has dentures, caregivers will often help patients rinse their dentures at night.
If a caregiver informs you that their patient has a hard time remembering how to brush their teeth or care for their dentures, advise them to start by providing short and simple instructions of what to do. Caregivers can also try a “watch me” technique and physically show them how to care for their mouth. Some days, it may be too difficult and that’s okay. Remind caregivers that if this happens, don’t stress and try again tomorrow. Encourage them to experiment with different methods to find what works best for the patient. Finally, caregivers should remain hopeful and never give up on helping provide patients with the best dental care.
Alzheimer’s can be a challenging and heartbreaking disease to watch a loved one go through. Dental care can often take a wrong turn in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s important for them to try and continue visiting the dentist as well as have a proper oral care routine at home. Luckily, many dentists are willing to schedule at-home visits to make it easier for the patient to receive the care that they need. Caretakers can also provide a lot of support and care in helping an individual maintain an oral care routine at home. Everyone deserves to have good dental health and have access to oral care, especially as they get older.
About The Author
Dr. Greg Grillo has been a practicing dentist in Washington State for more than 17 years. After studying at the University of Washington, Dr. Grillo received a bachelor’s degree with honors before attending the School of Dentistry on the same campus.
Dr. Grillo is committed to caring for families and educating his patients about the health benefits that come with a good oral hygiene routine. This is especially true for families that have children with autism, Down syndrome or other additional needs. As a valuable member of the Dentably team, Dr. Grillo is able to share his expertise with you to make your next appointment at the dentist a comfortable experience.
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