A tooth, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Dental floss surrounds the tooth in the shape of a heart.

Living with Alzheimer's: Tips on Managing Dental Care

Taking care of your dental health is an important part of being a healthy person. That includes brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing every day, and regular cleanings with the dentist twice every year. People with Alzheimer's may forget how to effectively manage their dental care.

The importance of dental care with Alzheimer's

A caregiver may have to help them take care of their teeth. Having healthy teeth can prevent a person with Alzheimer’s from having trouble eating. It can also help with avoiding digestion problems and infections. Good dental care can also help to avoid cavities and dental work that can cost a lot of money.1

Dental care can be customized to the needs of the person with Alzheimer's. It can also be changed as the disease progresses. Healthy teeth can help them to have a better quality of life.2

Focus on prevention

In the early stages of Alzheimer's, dental care focuses on prevention. Getting regular check-ups, brushing, and flossing teeth regularly can prevent the need for more invasive dental work later on, when the person with Alzheimer's may be less able to tolerate it.1

Tips for prevention

  • Find the right dentist. Contact your local dental society to find the names of dentists who have experience working with people with Alzheimer's.1
  • The bathroom is not the only choice for brushing teeth. A basin on a table or the kitchen sink might work better.3
  • The time of day can vary. Dental care does not have to be the last thing at night before bed or the first thing in the morning. Find a time when both you and the person with Alzheimer's are calm and have time to devote to the task.1,3
  • Take care of dentures daily.Dentures need to be taken out daily, brushed, and rinsed. While they are out, try to brush the person's gums and the roof of their mouth with a soft-bristled toothbrush.3
  • Use mouthwash. Anti-plaque mouthwash can be helpful in preventing gum disease but only if it won't be swallowed.3
  • Flossing tools can help. Use a floss holder, flexi-picks, or stim-u-dent, or use a tiny brush that can fit between teeth to clean the gums as well as the teeth.3

Other dental care considerations for Alzheimer's

In addition, provide short and simple instructions for the person with Alzheimer's to follow. A toothbrush with a large handle can be easier for them to hold onto. You can even try putting the handle through a tennis ball to give the person something larger to grasp. Another option is an electric toothbrush, which may be easier to use.3

Finally, if you are doing the brushing, it may be easier to sit the person on a chair and stand behind them to brush their teeth. Flossing may also be easier from this position.3

Identify dental care issues as soon as possible

Poor dental health can cause additional health problems for people with Alzheimer's. This can range from severe mouth pain to life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia.2

Some things to look out for if someone with Alzheimer's is having dental problems include:1,3

  • They will not eat;
  • They look unhappy or uncomfortable while they are eating;
  • Rubbing or touching their cheek or jaw;
  • Moaning or shouting out;
  • Head rolling or nodding;
  • Flinching, especially when washing their face or being shaved;
  • Restlessness;
  • Sleeping poorly;
  • Increased irritation or aggression;
  • Refusal to put in dentures.

Treating dry mouth

Certain medications can cause "dry mouth." This happens when your mouth does not make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth makes it more difficult to eat, swallow and can bother or irritate the tongue.

Some mouthwashes can help with dry mouth. Artificial saliva products may also help. Talk with your dentist about other options if the person with Alzheimer’s will swallow mouthwash.3

Foods can help maintain proper dental care

Finally, apples can also help clean teeth while being chewed. Make sure the person with Alzheimer's does not eat hard candy. They should also drink plenty of water.3

Have you thought up any other tips to manage dental care in your loved one living with Alzheimer's? Tell us in the comments below, or share your story with the community.

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