Oral health is important for the well-being of everyone. Good maintenance of your oral health is essential to avoid pain when eating and drinking. It also helps to fight off cavities, and nasty infections of the teeth and gums. There is a higher rate of tooth decay and gum disease in people living with dementia.
People living with dementia might find it hard to express when there is something wrong, and the problem may be left unchecked. Some might need help and encouragement when brushing their teeth. Others may need a reminder, like a note in the bathroom. Therefore, it is crucial that people with dementia receive the help they need to keep their teeth and gums clean to avoid infection and to maintain their self-esteem.
If you find that your loved one needs a little more help with cleaning their teeth, here’s what you can do:
- Use a small-headed toothbrush with medium bristles. A children’s toothbrush is a good idea.
- Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Make sure that the toothpaste contains no less than 1450 ppm of fluoride.
- If they have dentures, remove them. This will make brushing their teeth easier, and it allows for the dentures to be cleaned.
- Support their jaw as it helps to clean the front of their teeth.
- Brushing the teeth and gums with gentle, circular movements. Don’t be afraid if the gums bleed, and continue brushing when they do. Leaving the gums will only make them worse.
- Encourage them to open wide. This will help you to clean the inside of their teeth.
- Encourage the person to spit out the toothpaste, rather than rinsing it out. The fluoride in the toothpaste will still protect the teeth.
- Replace the toothbrush when it shows signs of wear, or ideally every 3 months.
- If your loved ones’ gums do not stop bleeding after 2 weeks, book an appointment with the dentists who will help solve the problem.
- Continue with routine check-ups with the dentists.
People living with dementia are often reluctant about their oral care, especially after a change of care routine. Try to alleviate it by:
- Giving short, clear instructions.
- Demonstrating what to do.
- Calmly guiding the person you care for on their oral care in stages.
- Explaining what you are doing if you are brushing their teeth. Gesture when necessary with the toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Look for signs of discomfort and consult the dentist when you spot any.
Some people with dementia will also have dentures. Dentures also need to be kept clean. If the dentures are loose, they will need replacing. Here’s what you can do to ensure that the dentures are kept clean:
- Encourage your loved one to clean them twice a day. If they’re unable to do so, you should clean them instead.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush if there are no natural teeth in the denture. This will avoid damaging them.
- Clean them over a bowl or a sink of water. This avoids breaking them if dropped.
- Ensure that they take their dentures out overnight and encourage them to brush their remaining teeth and gums.
- Speak to a dentist about getting a second set made.
- If cleaning the dentures yourself, use a denture brush and paste. If unavailable, use a non-perfumed liquid soap and water. Make sure to remove all of the plaque and food debris.
If your loved one has to visit the dentist for any reason, try to make sure that the experience goes as smoothly as possible. To ensure that this happens, try:
- Phoning ahead of the appointment to make sure that the dentist is aware that your loved one has dementia.
- Arranging the appointment for a quieter time of day. Make sure you book the appointment at a time when your loved one is usually at their best.
- Ask to wait outside if the dentist is running late. This may be because your loved one is getting impatient.
- Most importantly, stay with the person you care for. They will need your support and may require you to rephrase what the dentist is saying.
Although brushing your teeth may seem trivial to you, it is essential for the self-esteem and well-being of your loved one.
For more information about teeth cleaning please visit Dementia UK.
Post written by guest blogger: Marsha Turner.