Dental Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

Understanding the Special Needs of Older Patients


For some patients, day-to-day oral care and subsequent dental treatments may need to be approached a little differently than with others. For example, patients who are suffering from various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may require a specialized approach to their regular oral health care.

When working with patients with these conditions, it is important to remember that while Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, some patients may be suffering from other forms of dementia. Every patient’s memory regression and mental capabilities are different, so it truly makes a difference when each patient’s unique situation is assessed individually.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is not a disease, it is a syndrome; this is actually a common misconception. Dementia can refer to a number of different symptoms or diseases that affect memory, communication, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. This typically affects patients who are older, though symptoms have been known to develop early on in some patients.

So how does dental care come into play? It is not uncommon for patients suffering from dementia to struggle with performing basic tasks, such as brushing their teeth. Whether they are living in an assisted care facility, nursing home, or at home with their loved ones, dementia patients are at a higher risk for developing untreated dental diseases.

Alzheimer’s Patients and Dental Care

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be demanding, as there are aspects of their lives that they may no longer remember properly. Additionally, elderly patients may already have dental conditions that require special care, such as dentures. For many Alzheimer’s patients, they forget why brushing their teeth is important or the steps required to maintain dental health. In more severe cases, they may have difficulty communicating to express any discomfort in their mouth or jaw, as well, so it can be harder to discern if there are any dental issues.

If you care for an Alzheimer’s patient and observe them behaving or reacting in the following ways, they may be suffering from an unseen tooth ailment:

  • Holding their jaw, mouth, or cheek
  • Refusal to consume certain things, such as solid foods or hot liquids
  • Removal or refusal to wear dentures
  • Increased irritability, aggression, or sounds of pain
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Disinterest or refusal to partake in regular activities

While elderly care facilities are required by law to provide dental services, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure your family member is receiving the care they need. This is especially true for patients who are in the advanced stages of the disease, but as Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, most patients will require help with oral care.

Help Your Loved One With Their Oral Care

As patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related illnesses are often on various medications, they can be at a greater risk of developing dry mouth. This can cause a problem with dentures, as well as damage the plaque coating on the teeth. Things like high-energy food supplements turn into acid in the mouth due to their high sugar content, which will wear away at the plaque.

All of these factors should be carefully considered when helping an Alzheimer’s patient with their oral health care. Poor dental health can lead to cavities and even tooth loss, which can be extremely distressing for dementia patients.

Helping guide your loved one through their daily oral care routine can help them keep up with this important task.

Moving the process into an area they are more comfortable with can also be helpful! Set up a basin at a vanity table, for example, so they can approach the task in a more comfortable setting.

Additionally, having a say in what they are eating, drinking, and the types of medication they are on can help you to regulate any excessive sugar intake, as well.

Comprehensive Care for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

When it comes to preventing and treating dental diseases in patients with dementia, it is important to approach the situation delicately and in such a way that makes the patient comfortable. Tooth decay, periodontal disease, and bacteria build-up in the mouth can cause discomfort, pain, or worse, infection.

At Acosta Dental Arts, PA we understand how delicate this type of dental health situation can be, and we offer expert techniques to help Alzheimer’s/dementia patients and their family members approach oral care in a more manageable way. Contact us today to schedule your Free Smile Assessment at our North Palm Beach office.

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