Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s comes with a lot of questions and one you should be answering is how to provide good dental care. How to keep their mouth healthy is a big question, and one that needs to be answered. As a dentist with over 17 years of experience I’ve helped countless families in similar positions keep their loved ones mouth, and by extension body healthy. To aid you, I’ve put together a list of things you can do to help take care of your loved ones oral health.
Daily Oral Care
Daily oral care is important; here are a couple things you can do each day to help keep oral health in check.
Provide Short Instructions: It can help to give short explanations of the tasks associated with taking care of their teeth. Things like “hold the toothbrush” are good and descriptive, and can help keep the other person engaged. Brush your teeth is a bit too vague, and can be frustrating if not completely understood.
Demonstrate: It can also be helpful to demonstrate the various techniques of brushing and flossing. Seeing you do it can help them be more comfortable in doing it themselves.
Find a Time and a Place: Sometimes, changing the time or place that they brush can greatly help a patient with Alzheimer’s. Things like a kitchen sink or a different bathroom can make great alternatives. Waiting a few hours after waking is an example of an acceptable time in the morning to brush. If you’re having trouble with standard hours or locations don’t be afraid to try and switch it up a little.
Help Gently: If demonstrating doesn’t work you might also want to help guide them and do the brushing yourself. If you go this route, make sure to do so gently and find a position that is comfortable for the both of you. Make sure to take feedback if the person becomes agitated as you may be hurting them.
Use The Right Toothbrush: You can also try experimenting with different types of toothbrushes. In many cases, going with a softer bristle or child’s brush can be easier on the mouth and make brushing more enjoyable. One thing to generally stay away from is electric toothbrushes as they are often seen as confusing and frustrating. Here, manual is better and much simpler to use.
Be Aware Of Dental Pain: It’s also important to be very aware of potential dental pain and listen if the other person voices any concerns. In many cases, patients with Alzheimer’s will quietly suffer with oral pain, so make sure they feel comfortable bringing it up to you. This is also important as pain is usually one of the first symptoms of growing dental issues.
Denture Care: If they wear dentures it’s important to make sure they’re cleaned regularly. Dirty dentures can lead to infection, so make sure they are kept in good order. When they’re out, this is also a good time to gently brush the gums and roof of the mouth. Not caring for these two items can lead to infection and pain down the road.
Never Force It: Lastly, you never want to force oral care. This means no prying open of the mouth, or forcing the toothbrush in. If you’re facing resistance, it’s okay to stop and try again later. Some patients have worse symptoms at specific times of the day, so try to plan around these times.
Finding The Right Dentist
Working with the right dentist can make all the difference, here are a few tips to help you find the right one.Look At Their Experience: A bit part of dental care for patients who have Alzheimer’s is simply having the patience and experience dealing with them. Look for a dentist that has experience in this area, and don’t be afraid to ask about it. Many dentists will have prior experience, and may even be able to give care tips to make the whole process easier for everyone involved.
Coordinate With Other Medications: You also want to make sure that the dentist you work with is aware of all the medications the patient takes. Certain medications will conflict with each other, which could lead to serious issues, including death. That’s why it’s so important to share this with your dentist so that they have the full picture and can provide the safest care.
Keep Going As Long as Possible: Lastly, it’s important to keep up with your dental visits as long as possible. The dentist will provide a deep clean, which can prevent tooth decay and other oral issues. They will also be able to catch and provide treatment for any existing issues, and provide feedback on overall oral health.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is never fun, but with a little work can be made manageable. Hopefully, the above tips were helpful, and will help make caring for your loved ones easier.