Today, nearly 50 million Americans live with dementia. With symptoms like forgetfulness, limited social skills, and impaired thinking abilities, dementia greatly impacts daily life — including oral health care.
For instance, older adults with dementia are at increased risk for tooth decay and gum disease and may lose the ability to brush their teeth effectively. Proper care of the mouth and teeth helps prevent eating difficulties, digestive problems, and extensive dental procedures down the road.
As a caregiver, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your loved one’s smile stays healthy despite a dementia diagnosis.
1. Use short instructions.
“Brush your teeth” seems simple, but it may be too much. Walk through each step of the process — hold the brush and put toothpaste on it. Breaking up instructions into mini-steps can make commands easier to understand.
2. Do it together.
Take the lead — brush together in the bathroom mirror. The demonstration will show the person firsthand how to brush.
3. Look for clues.
Make sure you’re on top of daily care routines and monitor them closely. For example, if you notice strained facial expressions while eating, this may indicate dental pain.
4. Remember dental appointments.
Routine check-ups and specialty appointments are key for your loved one. Seek out a dentist who has experience working with dementia patients. Professional visits and X-rays can become more difficult as the disease progresses, so work to encourage a good oral health routine.
For anyone with a loved one in a senior care facility, read these tips to understand how nursing homes handle dental health care.