Dental health care for Alzheimer’s patients

Dental health problems in Alzheimer’s patients can lead to pain, unmanageable behavior and extensive dental treatment. Yet, the dental needs of Alzheimer’s patients are often overlooked, usually for very understandable reasons: the patient’s forgetfulness results in unintentional dental neglect; medications may cause chronic “dry mouth” (reduction in the healthy flow of saliva) that can lead to tooth decay; patients and their families lose contact with their dentist because they are focused on other health issues.

Good dental health can make eating and digesting food easier for an Alzheimer’s patient, improving the overall quality of life. If you are a caregiver for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, here are some tips and techniques from the Alzheimer’s Association to assist your loved one in maintaining good oral health.

  1. Brush teeth twice a day.
    • To make teeth cleaning less of a chore, find a toothbrush that the patient can manage and that is also easy for you or other caregivers to use, if the person needs assistance. A powered toothbrush may be a good choice, if the patient can tolerate the vibrating sensation. (For more details about selecting a toothbrush, click here.)
    • If toothpaste makes the process more difficult, omit it.
    • Ask your dentist if the patient can use a fluoride gel or rinse to keep tooth enamel strong.
  2. Floss teeth once a day.
    • A floss holder can make flossing easier for those who do not have good finger dexterity. Special picks and sticks make a good alternative if the patient clenches his or her teeth.
    • Ask your dentist about using an anti-microbial solution to protect the gums.
  3. Clean mouth and dentures after every meal.
    • Some patients with Alzheimer’s do not swallow well. Clear the patient’s mouth of any remaining food and rinse after every meal.
    • Remove the patient’s dentures for cleaning after every meal.
    • Using a toothbrush with soft bristles, very gently brush the gums and roof of the patient’s mouth.
  4. Visually inspect the patient’s teeth and gums once a month.
    • Ask the patient’s dentist about any trouble spots you should watch.
    • If gums bleed or appear swollen or red, the patient may have gum disease and will need to visit a dentist.
  5. Schedule regular dentist visits (beginning with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis).
    • Maintain a current list of the patient’s medications for your dentist and all health care workers.
    • See a dentist as soon as possible if the patient has difficulty or pain while chewing or has bad breath.
Source: Information courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association, Northern California Chapter and David Blende, DDS, special needs dentist..

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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