How Caregivers Can Improve Oral Health for People With Dementia

If you or a loved one are living with dementia, keeping up with good oral hygiene may seem difficult.

While some people with dementia can brush their own teeth, or take care of their dentures without assistance, many need extra help to do these important tasks.

Here are some things you should know when you’re caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

How do I know if my loved one needs help?

If someone under your care needs help eating, they will probably also need help with their oral hygiene. If you’re unsure how to help, ask a dentist to show you how to properly brush your loved one’s teeth or how to care for their dentures.

How does dementia affect oral health?

People with dementia are at increased risk for dental problems, including cavities, gum disease, and denture problems. When untreated, tooth decay and gum disease can become painful and lead to infection.

In addition, those with dentures are at an increased risk of mouth sores and choking on broken denture pieces. To prevent and treat these issues, regular dentist visits are essential.

If your loved one has bleeding gums or bad breath, these can be signs of a dental problem; if you notice these warning signs, schedule a dentist appointment for the person under your care right away.

How can I help care for my loved one’s oral health?

First, find a dentist that has experience working with older adults. One place to start is the Special Care Dental Association’s referral service.

If your loved one needs assistance when making important decisions (around healthcare or otherwise), talk to a lawyer about gaining “medical power of attorney,” which will allow you to make decisions about another person’s healthcare, including their dental care.

Next, learn how to properly brush teeth as a caregiver. We recommend checking out the National Institute of Health Guide, “Dental Care Every Day: A Caregiver’s Guide.”

Finally, if your loved one is in an assisted living facility, make sure the residence has an “oral care plan.” This plan should include specific information about how teeth will be brushed, how dentures will be cared for (if applicable), and what the plan is for scheduling/fulfilling regular dentist visits.

If you need help paying for care in nursing home facilities, we encourage you to learn about Incurred Medical Expense.

For a quick reference of these topics, download our tip sheet on Senior Oral Health for Caregivers (PDF 184 kB).

About the Author

Kimberly M. Espinoza, DDS, MPH, FADPD
Member of Special Care Dentistry Association

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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