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THE TOOTH & NOTHING BUT THE TOOTH: ORAL HEALTH CARE FOR PEOPLE WITH MEMORY LOSS

Anyone who has ever had a toothache will that it is one of the most agonizing things they’ve ever experienced. They can't get to a dentist fast enough to have the offending tooth pulled or filled. Older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory disorders may also suffer from painful teeth or mouth but can't always tell their caregivers about their misery. For busy caregivers it’s often easy to overlook a parent's daily oral health needs until he or she develops a painful problem.

Understanding the signs, symptoms and causes of dental pain, its treatment and prevention will spare both your older relative — and you a great deal of pain.

SIGNS OF DENTAL PROBLEMS IN PEOPLE WITH MEMORY LOSS
It is important for people with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s to maintain healthy teeth and gums. However, people with memory disorders can't always tell you that their mouths hurt. Some signs that your older relative may be suffering from oral pain:

  • Rubbing a cheek or jaw
  • Moaning or whimpering
  • Rolling or nodding the head
  • Refusing hot or cold beverages and foods
  • Refusing to wear dentures
  • Sleep difficulties and restlessness

MANAGING TOOTH AND MOUTH CARE AT HOME
As memory loss progresses people with the sometimes forget how to take care of their teeth. It's up to caregivers to help them manage daily oral hygiene and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

  • Use step-by-step instructions: “Hold your toothbrush.” “Put toothpaste on the brush.” “Brush your teeth.”
    Take your time. Wait until your parent completes each step before moving on to the next one.
  • Don’t give your parent mouthwash if he or she might swallow it.
  • Make tooth care part of your parent’s daily routine. Brush teeth at the same times every day. Clean dentures every night.
  • Ask your dentist for suggestions for making tooth and mouth care easier for you and your relative.
  • Check your parent’s mouth regularly for any changes in teeth, tongue or gums.
  • Continue regular dental check-ups as long as your parent is able to visit the dentist's office.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.