How To Provide Better Dental Care For Someone With Alzheimer’s: A Dentist’s Advice
Guest Post by Dr. Amanda Tavoularis, DDS
When your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it can be really scary. Your loved one can’t remember things anymore, and occasionally this has led to dangerous situations. They need constant care and attention, and no matter how much you love them it can be very difficult to balance this level of care with your already very busy life.
It is easy to start letting little things fall through the cracks. This leads to larger problems down the road, though, so it is important not to let this slip. As their caregiver, you are largely responsible for their health between specialist visits.
One of the first things that tend to fall when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is their oral care routine.
After 20 years as a practicing dentist, I have worked with several patients who have Alzheimer’s and see what can happen when they forget simple things and their caregivers let it slide too many times. On top of this, I have my own firsthand experience giving care to my own loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
This firsthand experience has ignited my passion for education. I hate seeing oral health suffer when someone receives very little care. Most of the time, it isn’t because loved ones don’t want to help. They simply don’t know how. This is why I have decided to write this article, to help caregivers know how to ensure that their loved ones are keeping their mouths healthy!
Partner with a Dentist Who Has Experience
One of the first steps to partnering with your dentist for care of a loved one is making sure that you have a dentist you trust. It is vital that a patient and their doctor have a positive relationship, or health will suffer as a result of mistrust and resentment.
Your dentist should have experience working with patients who have Alzheimer’s. This allows them to know the best ways to communicate with their patients and ensures that they know what specific dental issues to look for so they can catch warning signs early.
Once you find a provider you can trust, you need to visit regularly. While most people know when dental emergencies arise and are able to schedule extra visits, patients who have Alzheimer’s often have trouble communicating their needs when problems and pain arise. Frequent appointments allow the dentist to check up on their well-being and catch problems before they are left too long between their regular 6-month or 1-year checkups.
Pay Attention to their Diet
Because patients with Alzheimer’s don’t feel as safe or comfortable cooking as they used to, it can be very tempting for them to constantly eat frozen dinners and prepackaged food all the time. This allows them to feel as though they have maintained their independence without hauling out the cookbook and forgetting what they’ve done halfway through a recipe, or forgetting that they’ve left the oven on and burning meals.
Unfortunately, most of this type of food is terrible for your body. Even the healthier ones contain a lot of preservatives and sodium in order to keep them fresh for longer periods of time. It is nearly impossible to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet on this sort of food.
When you prepare meals for them, consider making meals that let them finish the job so they can maintain some independence without losing out on healthy foods. Make sure your food is balanced and nutritious, so they get everything they need. Foods that are healthy for your mouth, teeth, and jawbones include foods high in calcium and other vitamins. Protein, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and dairy are all great options.
Avoid allowing too many sugary foods. These foods are often delicious and easy, but they also lead to serious problems like gum disease and tooth decay. Drastically decrease the sugar content of their diet, because the older a patient gets, the higher their risk for tooth decay.
Brush Your Teeth Together
Patients with Alzheimer’s regularly neglect their daily oral hygiene routine because they are ashamed to admit that they have forgotten how to brush their teeth. Even when they remember, the intermittent memory loss that comes as part of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can cause them to forget that they haven’t brushed their teeth yet.
If you take the time to brush your teeth with your loved one, then it will keep them on schedule and offer them a way to follow your lead without having to admit that they don’t remember how a toothbrush works.
Move slowly so they can mirror your actions, and if they need you to teach them, use simple instructions. Break everything down into very small steps so they know what to do. If necessary, change their toothbrush. Softer bristles and longer handles may help.