Alzheimer’s and dementia both get worse as time goes on. So one important thing is to start early in the disease with a dental care program as soon after diagnosis as possible. Because when oral health is maintained; dignity, social interaction, self-esteem and nutrition is affected positively. While with poor oral health habits there’s a possibility of tooth loss as well as the pain that’s associated with it. This can later show up when the Alzheimer’s or dementia sufferer can no longer effectively communicate about it. Also, poor oral hygiene can have negative effects on the ability smile, eat and laugh. In addition, as the Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, the ability of the person to care for teeth diminishes so good supervision is a must.
There are several dental issues which can happen if teeth are not cared for properly. One is gum disease which causes gums to become inflamed and bleed. Gum recession then will cause loose teeth, and the whole combination will cause bad breath as plaque buildups. So the plague needs to be removed by daily brushing and flossing. Also, a mouthwash or a gel for teeth which contains chlorhexidine can be used to help when there’s gum bleeding, inflamed gums and bad breath.
Tooth decay is further added to when sugar laden foods and drinks are consumed and then dental care isn’t followed properly. So by restricting the person’s sugar intake to twice or three times a day, this can help guard against tooth decay. By the way, it’s the number of times sugar is consumed a day rather than the amount of sugar that hurts most. Also, drinks and foods that have sugar hidden in them count as well. So, make sure the person is eating a good healthy diet and using toothpaste and mouthwash which contains fluoride. In addition, a person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s may not have an appetite or have difficulty in eating which is often why a lot of tasty sugary foods are consumed, so food supplements may be needed as well. Furthermore, if the person has natural teeth, talking to a dentist about dental care for prevention of problems may be even more necessary.
Also, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients take numerous medications. Some of these medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Since saliva in the mouth cleans the mouth and teeth and acts as a lubricant, lack of salvia can cause dental issues too. Further, dry mouth can cause problems with dentures which may become loose or uncomfortable to wear. In addition, if the person is taking an antipsychotic drug, it can cause the jaw to make repetitive movements as well as the tongue. This can cause denture wearing problems as well. Here, a dentist may be able to advise on how to make the person comfortable or how to help ease the discomfort.
Many older people wear dentures which are either full or partial. Partial dentures can build up plaque easily which will cause and encourage gum disease. Another issue is if the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s loses their teeth; full dentures may be needed then. This could be something a person with dementia could have difficulty in adjusting to so repeated encouragement with wearing them is necessary, though a person may stop wearing them regardless once the disease has progressed to a certain state.
Also, a person with dementia may continually lose their dentures. This problem can be eased by marking the dentures so that they can be better returned. Now dentures can be marked permanently when made; or the caregiver can mark them with a pencil or alcohol based marker. So remove the surface polish from the back of the dentures with a kitchen scourer, print the person’s name on them and then apply two coats of clear nail polish. Be sure to disinfect, clean and dry the denture before doing this.
In part two, we’ll go over the stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s and how it affects dental care.