It is among the first things we do each morning, as well as one of the last things we do each night, typically on autopilot without giving it an extra thought. Yet it happens to be a complicated process made up of numerous steps, making this seemingly easy task quite a challenge for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Proper oral health for seniors is important for a variety of reasons and not just to help keep our teeth and gums healthy. Poor dental hygiene can bring about serious health issues, among them heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, respiratory disease, and more. It may also impact the ability to talk and eat.
Dental Hygiene in Dementia
So how are you able to make sure a loved one with dementia maintains good oral hygiene? These recommendations from Anthem Home Care, the experts in Corpus Christi senior services, can help:
- Modeling is a good strategy to help a senior loved one with dementia through a multistep process like brushing the teeth. Encourage the person to accomplish each step on their own whenever possible: placing a small amount of toothpaste on the brush (baking soda toothpaste is preferred over fluoride, just in case the senior 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 a person who needs assistance, provide a toothbrush with toothpaste already applied, stand behind the senior, and put your hand on the older adult’s, beginning the motion of brushing for them.
- If grasping the brush is hard, there are longer-handled toothbrushes available, or, cut holes in a tennis ball and push the brush through, giving the individual something larger to hold onto. A battery-powered toothbrush can also be an excellent choice to try.
- Flossing is also an essential part of dental care. For independent flossing, try floss holders or other tools designed to make it easier and much more efficient. If you’re flossing the senior’s teeth, again, standing behind the individual may be easiest.
- In the event that the older adult has dentures, be sure to remove, brush, and rinse them every day. 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 at all possible, locate a dentist who is skilled in dementia dental hygiene. A senior loved one with dementia should continue to receive regular dental exams, which include checking of dentures to make certain of a correct fit, and to rule out any complications with the teeth or gums. An older adult with dementia who is not able to communicate dental pain or discomfort may exhibit signs including:
- Touching the cheek or jaw, or rubbing the affected area
- Nodding or rolling the head
- Resisting any hygiene in the vicinity of the area, including washing the face or shaving
- Sleeping problems
- Aggression, moaning, or yelling
- Resistance to putting dentures in
If any of these symptoms are noted, schedule an appointment with the dentist right away.
For further tips, as well as for skilled, compassionate help with oral care for an older adult with dementia, reach out to our Corpus Christi senior services experts at Anthem Home Care at 361-643-2323. For a full list of all of the communities where we provide our award-winning home care services, please visit our Service Area page.