Dementia patients can require special dental care to ensure they enjoy a high quality of life. The dental care basics still apply, but protocols followed probably will require some adjustments, depending on the patient’s age and specific dementia complications.
One of the best moves we made from the beginning was for Jim and I to start using the same dentist. Because we both go to the same dentist, we have an excellent relationship with him, and he fully understands our family dynamics. This knowledge has given him insight into how he should modify his routine practices to help Jim maintain good, stable dental health.
In fact, everyone involved in any way in the dental care process for the person with dementia needs to be on the same page. This goes beyond just the dentist and includes the hygienist, primary and secondary caregivers, and even the dental office staff. Things that may seem as minor as scheduling times need to be responsive to the patient’s needs.
Jim gets a dental cleaning every three months
Most importantly, Jim gets a dental cleaning every three months, rather than the typical six-month time frame. That has produced several benefits. First: reduced dental stress. Few of us look forward to dental visits, and sitting in the dentist’s chair can result in real anxiety for someone with dementia. If Jim gets too stressed out on a routine visit, we can cut the appointment short. And it’s OK if they don’t get to everything, because we know he will be back in three months. Second, going every three months means not as much plaque buildup – so it is easier and quicker for Jim AND the hygienist. Finally, it allows the dentist to closely monitor problems and not have to take drastic action as quickly. For example, the dentist has been monitoring a cavity that Jim has had for three years. At this point he is not in pain, but it’s the kind of cavity that cannot be repaired with a filling, and eventually he will have to have the tooth pulled. Because we go every three months, our dentist can keep a close eye on the situation and we can delay the extraction as long as possible.
In addition to going to the dentist every three months, below are some special steps we have taken to keep Jim’s mouth healthy as possible:
- The hygienist has changed the order in which her work is completed. In Jim’s case she polishes first to get off some plaque. Jim doesn’t mind the polish routine. Once that is finished she works on his problem tooth first. That gets the worse part over – and if that is all as we get done — it is OK.
- The hygienist also rinses Jim a lot. We find it calms him down.
- Our hygienist says her goal is to work efficiently and get as much plaque and tartar off as she can in whatever time period she ends up having.
- We don’t overlook flossing, especially problem areas. Some people think that that the need for flossing decreases with age, but that is not so. Flossing helps prevent health problems throughout the body, such as cardiovascular risks and digestive problems. In Jim’s case I am the only one who flosses him. It requires a delicate touch and someone he trusts completely.
- If there are spaces between teeth, you may want to consider an interdental toothbrush (the kind that has little brushes on the end).
- Jim does not eat any dessert or sweets, primarily to reduce inflammation. But eliminating these kinds of sugar-laden foods also means there is less bacteria in his mouth to cause tooth decay.
Dental health is one of those things we take for granted – until we lose it. Because of dementia, there are many things Jim can’t do for himself anymore. But he can still pick up an apple and eat it without having it sliced. I consider that a sure sign of good dental health, and that has made our investment of time, effort and money at the dentist’s office totally worth it!