How Caregivers Can Help Dementia Patients Take Care of Their Teeth

Memory Cafe Directory Guest Contributor Amanda Winstead

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How Caregivers Can Help Dementia Patients Take Care of Their Teeth

Submitted by Guest Contributor:
Amanda Winstead

As a caregiver, your job is to make sure the patients you’re looking after are as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, oral health often gets overlooked beyond brushing and flossing. For someone with dementia, those simple tasks can often feel like a lot to take care of, but they aren’t always enough to maintain oral health.

It’s one of the reasons why tooth decay and gum disease are often problems for dementia patients. Many find it difficult to perform daily activities, let alone get extra medical attention if they’re dealing with a toothache or haven’t gotten a professional cleaning in a while.

So, make oral health a priority for your patients. Like many other things, it won’t always be easy, especially when it might require your patient to leave a comfortable, familiar space where they feel safe. But, oral health problems can lead to more serious physical issues, including cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections.

Some studies have found that oral health problems can even negatively impact the brain, and may make the effects of dementia worse.

What can you do, as someone caring for dementia patients, to make sure they’re properly taking care of their teeth?

Provide Comfort and Ensure Safety

It’s not uncommon for dementia patients to be fearful of unfamiliar situations or people, especially if they’re in the early stages of the disease. So, something that might seem simple to you – like going to the dentist – can trigger feelings of anxiety in them.

If your patient needs dental work, however, getting them that care is crucial. So, what can you do to assure them of their safety and keep them comfortable? Try some of the following tips to help them out of their comfort zone safely:

  • Start small with a consultation appointment
  • Set achievable goals for them
  • Offer your support
  • Be an advocate for them at the dental office
  • Seek out additional support from their family members and friends

When your patient recognizes that the dental office isn’t a place to be scared of, they’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed when they need treatment. Talk to their dentist beforehand and explain the situation. Most dentists and hygienists are more than happy to take extra care and practice patience with those who need it most. No oral health professional wants their patients to feel scared or uncomfortable, so they’ll typically be happy to work with you on providing a safe and relaxed environment.

Help Them With a Routine

Routine is incredibly important for people with dementia. You probably already have several of them in place for your patients, whether it’s a nighttime routine that helps them get ready for bed or specific “tasks” they need to accomplish throughout the day.

Setting up a routine for oral care is just as crucial, and can make it easier for them to handle.

Mouth cleaning should happen at least twice a day. One of the best things you can do is to make brushing your teeth an activity you do with your patient – especially if they’re reluctant to do it on their own. It will show them how easy it is, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

In some cases, you might need to brush your patient’s teeth for them. If that’s the case, there are a few tips to keep in mind for everyone’s safety and comfort:

  • Encourage them to keep their mouth open wide
  • Support their jaw
  • Use only a small amount of toothpaste
  • Use gentle, circular movements as you brush
  • Pay attention to any signs of plaque buildup, cavities, or gum disease

If your patients can brush, floss, and use mouthwash on their own, it can be helpful for them if you write down the steps they should take in their oral health routine and leave the instructions near the bathroom sink, reminding them to do it twice a day. Occasionally, you may need to demonstrate for them how they should be brushing their teeth. This “watch me” technique provides a visual demonstration to your patient that will make it easier for them to brush and floss the right way. It might seem like a small gesture, but it can make a big difference.

Use Tech to Make Things Easier

Some people can experience the onset of dementia as early as their 30s. But, the disease most commonly affects people over the age of 65.

Unfortunately, aging can come with a variety of other health conditions, too. Those conditions, combined with dementia, might make it hard for your patient to leave the house. We already touched on how uncomfortable and scary it can be for dementia patients to go somewhere new. But, maybe that isn’t even a possibility, depending on their physical state.

If your patient has mobility issues, other underlying health conditions, or lives in a rural area that’s far away from a dental office, it might not be feasible to see a dentist in person as often as they should.

For things like routine cleanings and oral health problems, making a physical appointment is necessary. But, if you (or your patient) has any questions or wants to follow up after an appointment, consider utilizing telehealth options. Teledentistry is growing in popularity, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teledentistry typically involves a video conference with the dentist where they can address non-emergent issues or questions, or provide follow-up information after an oral surgery or extensive procedure. One of the biggest benefits is that your patient can remain in their home for the appointment. You’ll also be able to sit with them and get the necessary information if you need to integrate anything extra into their care routine.

You’re already doing everything you can to care for your patient, but oral health can be easy to overlook until there’s a problem. Unfortunately, by the time those problems are noticeable, they’re usually much more invasive to treat and could contribute to other health issues. Keep these ideas in mind to make sure your patient’s mouth stays healthy, and they receive the oral care they need without fear or discomfort.

Amanda Winstead

Amanda Winstead Memory Cafe Directory

Amanda Winstead

Amanda is a writer from the Portland, Oregon area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories.

Along with writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.




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