Dental Care for Persons Living with Dementia

A person with dementia may forget how to brush his or her teeth or forget why it’s important. A caregiver may have to assist or take a more hands-on approach.

Proper oral care is necessary to prevent eating difficulties, digestive problems and infections.  Weight loss and loss of appetite can be associated with poor dental care.  Mouth pain is sometimes overlooked as a cause for increased agitation or other behavioral changes.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, preventive dental care is important. Getting check-ups and cleaning and flossing teeth regularly can prevent extensive dental procedures in the future.

During the middle and late stages of Alzheimer’s, oral health may become more challenging. The person may forget what to do with toothpaste or how to rinse, or may be resistant to assistance from others. Sometimes caregivers may need to use the “watch-me” technique to help the person with dementia do the steps associated with appropriate dental care.  Other tips can be found here.

Finding a dentist with experience in providing oral care in persons with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease are not always the easiest to find.  However, talking with the dentist that is already taking care of a person with dementia may be a good place to start.  Preparing the dental team that a person has dementia may help in making the dental appointment be less stressful for all.

Author: Raj C. Shah, MD

I am geriatrician and an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center.

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