As a parent, you're probably used to taking your kids to your local family dentistry clinic for their regular checkups. There might come a time when it's not only your kids whose dental appointments you need to manage. When a parent or other family member is diagnosed with dementia, what sort of assistance might they need with their dental care?
Dementia and Oral Health
Dementia can play a role in someone's dental health, although the condition itself doesn't directly affect the teeth. If you have a parent or family member with dementia, what issues might they encounter with their teeth and gums?
Saliva acts as a type of irrigation system in the mouth, helping to wash away or dilute harmful, enamel-eroding bacteria that can attack the teeth. Some types of medication (including those that may be prescribed for dementia patients) can reduce saliva flow, creating an increased risk of cavities.
It's not an issue that affects everyone with dementia, but studies have found that those with dementia may develop an increased craving for sweet, sugar-rich foods. This is thought to be due to an abnormality in the brain's serotonin system. Increased consumption of sugary foods can lead to higher incidences of enamel erosion and general decay, helping cavities to form.
When a person's cognitive abilities decline due to dementia, their memory is affected. It can be that your parent or family member simply forgets to perform their oral care routine.
How You Can Help
You might be wondering how you can help your loved one to maintain the highest possible standard of dental hygiene. It can be beneficial to manage their dental appointments, schedule their regular checkups, and transport them to the dental office. You can also set daily notifications for your loved one using their smartphone. This can act as a reminder for your loved one to brush and floss and can be useful if they don't actually live with you.
At the Dentist
Early-stage dementia doesn't require a specific approach when at the dentist. This may change as your loved one's condition progresses, and their cognitive functions are increasingly affected. If the purpose of their dental visit is unclear to them on any level, they may not be cooperative during treatment. If necessary, talk to the dentist about conscious sedation, which is when nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is administered for a calmative effect, allowing the most efficient treatment.
It's not only your kids whose dental treatments you need to keep track of, and if you have a parent or family member affected by dementia, they might need some assistance too. Make an appointment at a family dental clinic to care for your family's teeth.