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Alzheimer's Association, New York City Chapter

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Dental Care
 
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The person with Alzheimer's disease may have special problems maintaining good oral hygiene. He may have difficulty brushing because he forgets what to do with the toothpaste or how to rinse. As the disease progresses he may completely forget how to care for his teeth and gums.

As the caregiver, you will need to assume increasing responsibility for the patient's dental care. It is extremely important to aggressively pursue oral hygiene to prevent invasive dental procedures later on. Good oral hygiene can also help maintain the person's integrity, appearance and comfort despite the progression of Alzheimer's disease.


Make Sure that the Patient has Regular Dental Check-Ups

Emphasize prevention

Consider increasing your visits to the dentist to four times a year for regular cleanings. By preventing tooth decay and gum problems you can avoid pain and infection.

Take care of dental problems as soon as they are discovered

They don't develop into more difficult problems to treat.

Find qualified to work with elderly patients

Find names of professionals who will make home visits if needed, by contacting your local dental society.

Consult your dentist about using

Stannous fluoride gel which protects the teeth from tooth decay – or other recommendations he or she may have to assist in preventing tooth decay.

Make arrangements for continued dental care for patients in nursing homes.

Provide the dentist with a list of medications that the patient receives

Note that many medications cause dry mouth which leads to tooth decay and other dental problems.

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Take Preventive Measures

Recognize the relationship between diet and good dental health

You may want to limit or eliminate sugary foods such as candy, cookies, cakes and soft drinks.

Be aware of the dangers of some in-between meal snacks.

Encourage the person to eat fruits and vegetables instead of sugary snacks. If you do give him sugary foods, make them a part of regular meals and encourage the person to brush his teeth or at least rinse his mouth with water after eating.

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Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
  • Help the person brush his teeth at least twice a day for two minutes , with the last brushing after the evening meal and nighttime liquid medication, if possible.
  • Encourage the patient to brush by saying, "Show me how you brush your teeth." You may need to guide them through each step of the process by placing your hand over his, or demonstrate by brushing your teeth at the same time.
  • Consider postponing brushing if the person is agitated or uncooperative , or brushing fewer times a day.
  • Experiment with different types of toothbrushes or dental devices . Many caregivers believe that a soft bristled children's toothbrush works better than a hard bristled adult's brush. Other caregivers prefer a long handled or angled brush.
  • Be aware of the potential dangers of electric appliances, such as electric toothbrushes. They may confuse, disturb, or be a safety concern for the person with Alzheimer's.
  • Make it easy to use dental devices . Many caregivers find that it's easier for the person to grasp a toothbrush if a ball or bicycle handlebar grip is attached to the end of the handle.
  • If you use mouth rinses, select one that does not contain alcohol , since alcohol contributes to dry mouth.

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Take Special Care of Dentures
  • Help the person brush his teeth at least twice a day for two minutes , with the last brushing after the evening meal and nighttime liquid medication, if possible.
  • Encourage the patient to brush by saying, "Show me how you brush your teeth." You may need to guide them through each step of the process by placing your hand over his, or demonstrate by brushing your teeth at the same time.
  • Consider postponing brushing if the person is agitated or uncooperative , or brushing fewer times a day.
  • Experiment with different types of toothbrushes or dental devices . Many caregivers believe that a soft bristled children's toothbrush works better than a hard bristled adult's brush. Other caregivers prefer a long handled or angled brush.
  • Be aware of the potential dangers of electric appliances, such as electric toothbrushes. They may confuse, disturb, or be a safety concern for the person with Alzheimer's.
  • Make it easy to use dental devices . Many caregivers find that it's easier for the person to grasp a toothbrush if a ball or bicycle handlebar grip is attached to the end of the handle.
  • If you use mouth rinses, select one that does not contain alcohol , since alcohol contributes to dry mouth.

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