January is Alzheimer Awareness Month
If you are caregiver to a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, you may need to assist them with proper denture and oral care. In the early and middle stages of the disease, this may mean offering support, reminders, and coaching. In the later stages of the disease, you may need to take over responsibility for this care.
Here are some tips to assist you in maintaining your loved one’s good denture and oral health.
Connect with the patient’s Denturist
Once you have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it is important to establish a denture and oral care program as soon as possible. As dementia is a progressive condition (it gets worse over time), scheduling an appointment with a Denturist will help to preserve your loved one’s oral health and reduce the risk of poor oral health developing.
Annual denture check-ups should also be scheduled. This will help the Alzheimer’s patient avoid denture emergencies and ensure optimal denture care, health, and functionality.
Try to maintain a current list of the patient’s medications for your Denturist. Bring this list with you to every Denturist appointment. Some prescription medications can cause dry mouth, involuntary and repetitive tongue and jaw movement, or tooth decay, all of which can adversely affect denture comfort and fit. The better you keep your Denturist informed, the better care and treatment they will be able to provide to your loved one.
Understand that oral care needs will change
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may be able to carry out their own mouth care and be able to communicate effectively with their Denturist. However, you may need to remind them to do it, supervise them, or provide instruction on how to properly clean their dentures, oral cavity, and any remaining teeth.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, your loved one may lose the ability to clean their dentures and oral cavity, stop understanding that their teeth need to be kept clean, or lose interest in doing so. If this happens, you may need to take over this task.
A Denturist can provide guidance and support to help you assist your loved one with proper denture and oral care procedures through all stages of dementia. In early Alzheimer’s, patients may be able to communicate effectively with their Denturist and participate in treatment planning. As the disease progresses, you may need to communicate on behalf of the patient and advocate on behalf of your loved one.
Help prevent denture loss
Due to memory loss related with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, your loved one may become more likely to lose their dentures. Denture loss is also common when people with dementia are in unfamiliar environments, such as care homes, hospice, and community care settings.
The simple act of marking a person’s name on their dentures means that lost dentures can often be returned. Talk to the patient’s Denturist about adding a name to the denture acrylic.
Assist with proper denture care
After every meal, the patient’s dentures should be removed for cleaning. Prior to cleaning, place a face cloth in the sink to help prevent breakage if the denture is dropped.
Gently brush the denture with warm water and a soft toothbrush. Rinse with clean water.
Soak the denture in water whenever the patient is not wearing it. You can also soak overnight using a denture cleaner (we can recommend ones that are gentle and effective).
Assist with proper oral care
Some people with Alzheimer’s do not swallow well, so sweep the patient’s mouth to remove any large pieces of food. Have the patient rinse with a bit of warm water to remove any remaining debris. Finally, using a toothbrush with soft bristles, gently brush the gums and roof of the mouth.
Patients with remaining natural teeth will also need to brush and floss twice a day. In the early stages of dementia, most patients will be able to brush their own teeth. In time, you may need to provide reminders, supervise to ensure teeth are cleaned, or show your loved one what to do.
Select a toothbrush that a patient can manage and that will also be easy for you to use if your loved one needs assistance. Electric toothbrushes may make the chore of brushing teeth easier for patients lacking manual dexterity, though some cannot tolerate the noise and vibration.
Some patients are comfortable using toothpaste, while others may not like it. If toothpaste makes the brushing process more difficult, omit it and ask your Denturist about fluoride gels or rinses to protect tooth enamel.
Flossing can present a problem for patients who clench their teeth or who lack good finger dexterity. Floss holders and flossing picks can be useful tools for these patients.
Regularly monitor the patient’s dentures for proper fit
Dentures that fit poorly pose serious problems for dementia patients. Aside from the aesthetic considerations of a poorly fitting denture, loose dentures can create sore spots, make it difficult or embarrassing to speak and socialize, prevent proper chewing, and could be accidentally swallowed. Unfortunately, someone with dementia may not let you know if there is a problem.
A quick mouth check can reveal a small problem before it gets worse, such as a small ulcer, poorly-fitting dentures, and dental decay. As well, you can keep watch for common problem signs of poor denture fit: recurring sore spots, difficulty eating, the appearance of exposed gums, and the development of premature aging signs. If your loved one displays any of these warning signs, complains of difficulty or pain while chewing, or has recurring bad breath, schedule an appointment with their Denturist as soon as possible.
Good denture and oral health can make eating and digesting food easier for an Alzheimer’s patient, improving their overall quality of life. And as Alzheimer’s progresses, your loved one will depend on you more and more for assistance with dental care. We encourage you to keep connected with a Denturist for assistance, information, and support to help you in your dental caregiving tasks.