Dementia and Oral Health

Kimberly Espinoza | 02.01.2013

Dementia and Oral Health

A healthy mouth is an important part of general health. If your loved one has dementia, you might be wondering how to keep his or her mouth healthy. Here are some important things to know when caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Oral hygiene

Some people with dementia can brush their teeth or take care of their dentures without any help. However, many people with dementia need some extra help in order to do these important tasks. If your loved one needs help with feeding, he or she probably also needs help with oral hygiene. It is a good idea to ask your dentist to show you how to brush your loved one’s teeth  and care for his or her dentures.

Dental problems

Dementia puts people at risk for dental problems. These include cavities, gum disease, and denture problems. Decay and gum disease  can lead to pain and infection. Denture problems can lead to mouth sores  or choking on broken denture pieces. Regular dental visits are important to prevent and treat these problems. Bleeding gums and bad breath can also be a sign of dental problems. If you notice these problems, make sure your loved one sees a dentist right away.

Steps to take

  1. Find a dentist that has experience working with older adults. A good place to start is the Special Care Dental Association’s referral service available here.  If your loved one has trouble making decisions on his or her own, talk to an attorney about a “medical power of attorney.” You may need this to help your loved one make medical decisions, including dental care.
  2. Review online resources for brushing the teeth of another person. One helpful resource is the National Institute of Health Caregiver’s Guide. Another option is the Specialized Care Company DVD on caring for someone else’s teeth. While these resources were originally made for people with other types of disabilities, they are good resources for learning how to brush others’ teeth.
  3. If your loved one lives in a nursing home, make sure the nursing home has an “oral care plan.” This plan includes the specifics of how his or her teeth will be brushed, how to take care of his or her dentures, and a plan for visiting a dentist.  Need help paying for care in nursing home facilities? Learn more about Incurred Medical Expense.

Kimberly M. Espinoza, DDS, MPH, FADPD

Member of Special Care Dentistry Association