January is Alzheimer Awareness Month
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative disease of the brain. While Alzheimer’s remains incurable, support and care early in the disease can help manage symptoms and improve a patient’s quality of life.
Poor oral health can lead to pain and tooth loss, and can negatively affect self-esteem and the ability to eat, laugh, and smile. Maintaining oral health is one such way to benefit a patient’s self-esteem, dignity, social integration, and nutrition.
Consult a Denturist
Having proper fitting prostheses, cleaning those prostheses properly, and maintaining any remaining natural teeth are all components of good oral care for denture patients.
Appropriate care will make eating and digesting food easier for an Alzheimer’s patient, prevent tooth decay and gum disease, and contribute to a healthy appearance, all of which improve their overall quality of life.
These tasks can become difficult for the patient as their cognition and functional performance declines. For example, the patient may forget to remove their dentures, resulting in increased food debris and dental buildup. They may become unable to perform proper denture and oral care because they cannot hold a traditional toothbrush anymore. Alzheimer’s patients may also experience dental discomfort or pain yet be unable to adequately communicate this to their Denturist or caregiver.
Tasks can also become complicated if the patient’s caregiver lacks the skill, time, or knowledge necessary to perform proper oral care when the patient is unable to do these tasks themselves. As well, it is not uncommon for patients and their families lose contact with the Denturist because they are focused on other health issues.
Talk to the Denturist as early in the patient’s diagnosis as possible. They will be able to help you develop a plan for how to approach oral care throughout the various stages of Alzheimer’s.
For example, they can provide instruction on how to properly clean and store dentures and how best to clean another person’s teeth. They can recommend products like specialized toothbrushes that are easier to hold, or mouth rinses that a patient will tolerate better than toothpaste. They can shorten appointments or schedule them for certain times of the day that work best for the patient. They can also book regular check-ups biannually (instead of annually as is most commonly seen) to ensure better care over time.
Encourage regular denture use
Anyone missing teeth may experience a decline in their appearance, diet, and ability to speak. In replacing missing teeth, dentures help a person preserve their dignity and self-esteem as well as maintain adequate nutrition.
If a person with Alzheimer’s is without their dentures for any length of time, they may forget how to wear them, or they may lose their ability to adapt to a new set. Encourage your loved one to wear their dentures for as long as possible as a way to maintain their familiarity with their prostheses. As their physical capabilities decline, you may need to offer help with inserting their dentures.
If a patient is removing their dentures more often than before, or if they are simply not wearing them, this may indicate that they have become frustrated with something – including denture fit, function, or comfort. If you notice that your loved one has stopped wearing their dentures, consider booking a consultation with their Denturist who can assess and adjust denture fit and function.
Keep the patient involved as long as possible
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, people often retain their functional capabilities. In this time, it may be possible to keep your loved one involved with their denture and oral care for some time. As the disease progresses, you will need to assume more responsibility in performing oral care and when communicating with the Denturist.
However, there can be a tendency for many caregivers to take over tasks earlier than necessary, because doing so is expedient. We recommend that you take the time to check in with your loved one regularly and attempt to involve them as much as possible in their own denture and oral care.
Such involvement can improve the patient’s quality of life in many ways. They can be involved in the treatment planning process and inform the Denturist about how their denture fits and functions. This will lead to an enhanced ability to use their denture when speaking, drinking, eating, smiling, and laughing. If a new denture is being considered, the patient can direct the Denturist on aesthetics, ensuring the best possible outcome for a natural-looking smile.
One simple way to keep your loved one involved in their own oral care is to provide visual reminders for oral hygiene. Visual cues in the washroom, like signs or schedules, can contribute to a dementia-friendly environment.
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.