Dental Care For Alzheimer's Patients: What You Need To Know As A Caregiver

Posted on: 21 December 2015


If you are taking care of a parent or loved one with Alzheimer's, you know how hard it can be to help them with daily hygiene as they lose cognitive function. One area that may be particularly hard to oversee -- but is vital to good oral and overall health -- is tooth brushing and dental care.

Problem Behaviors in Alzheimer's Patients

One of the biggest issues that Alzheimer's patients encounter is the frustrating inability to remember how to perform simple tasks, like brushing teeth or flossing. Rather than try and fail, they may become resistant to engaging in oral health care. 

In other cases, Alzheimer's patients may believe that they have already performed the brushing or flossing, and may become hostile toward their caregiver about repeating (they think) the task.

Why Be Concerned About Oral Health?

In a patient with Alzheimer's disease, it may be tempting to let oral health take a backseat to the other, serious complications of dementia that come with the affliction. But damage to oral health can significantly decrease the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients -- and even though your parent or loved one may be ill, you don't want them to suffer needlessly.

In a study performed on 158 Alzheimer's patients above age 65, researchers found that those who had gum disease with sensitivity and bleeding and cavities or missed fillings had a more negative quality of life. Plus, missing more than two molar teeth had a negative impact because of the inability for the patient to easily chew food. 

Ways to Encourage Oral Health in Alzheimer's Patients

One of the most important things to do once an Alzheimer's diagnosis has been made is to see a general dentist for a thorough checkup. Any issues that are existing can be addressed before the dementia gets worse and the patient is resistant to care. 

As part of the visit, it's helpful to make a plan for continued dental care. As a caregiver, you may find it useful to have a schedule for follow-up visits and cleanings, which may need to be more frequent if the patient is unable to care for their teeth properly. Seeing the dentist may also help the patient to recall the importance of oral care, especially if the person has been careful to see a dentist regularly before becoming ill.

Another tactic that you as a caregiver can engage in is simultaneously performing the care routine with your patient. That means that you get out two brushes and toothpaste, using language that reflects both of you doing the task ("let's brush our teeth now"). Demonstrate the task so that your loved one can see -- and possibly recall -- what needs to be done. Showing what to do can have better results than nagging or trying to do the work yourself.

Talk to your Alzheimer's patient's primary caregiver and a dentist like Michael C. Cordora DDS, PLLC with any questions you have about routine dental care and how to encourage following a healthy oral care program.