It is among the first things we do in the morning, and one of the last things we do each night, typically on autopilot without giving it any additional thought. Yet it actually is a complicated process composed of a number of steps, making this seemingly simple task quite a challenge for a senior with dementia.
Proper dental care for older adults is critical, and not only to keep our teeth and gums healthy. Poor dental hygiene can result in serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, respiratory disease, and much more. It can also affect the ability to talk and eat.
Dental Hygiene in Dementia
So how can you make sure a family member with dementia maintains good oral hygiene? These recommendations from Grace Home Care, the Topeka senior care experts, can help:
- Modeling is an excellent approach to help a person with dementia through a multistep process like brushing one’s teeth. Encourage the person to complete each step independently if possible: placing a tiny bit of toothpaste on the brush (baking soda toothpaste is preferred over fluoride, in the event the person swallows it), lifting the brush to the mouth, and moving the brush side to side and up and down over all surfaces of the teeth.
- For an individual who needs help, provide a toothbrush with toothpaste already applied, stand behind the individual, and place your hand on theirs, starting the motion of brushing for them.
- If grasping the brush is difficult, there are longer-handled toothbrushes available, or, cut holes in a tennis ball and push the brush through, giving the person something more substantial to hold onto. A battery-powered toothbrush may also be an excellent option to try.
- Flossing is also an important part of dental hygiene. For independent flossing, try floss holders or other tools designed to make it easier and more efficient. If you are flossing the older adult’s teeth, again, standing behind the person might be easiest.
- If the older adult has dentures, make sure to remove, brush, and rinse them daily. While the dentures are removed, a soft-bristled toothbrush should be used to gently clean the older adult’s gums and roof of the mouth.
Don’t Forget the Dentist
If possible, locate a dentist who is skilled in dementia dental treatments. A senior with dementia should continue to receive regular dental exams, which include checking of dentures to make sure of an appropriate fit and also to rule out any issues with the teeth or gums. A loved one with dementia who’s unable to communicate dental pain or discomfort may exhibit signs including:
- Touching the jaw or cheek, or rubbing the affected region
- Rolling or nodding the head
- Resisting any hygiene around the area, including washing the face or shaving
- Sleeping issues
- Aggression, yelling, or moaning
- Resistance to putting dentures in
If any of these symptoms are noted, schedule an appointment with the dentist as soon as possible.