Preventive family dental care provided to patients during the early stage of dementia could help to prevent the development of major oral health problems later, says the results of a new study.
“Dementia is associated with a change in health habits, including two major ones – diet and teeth cleaning,” wrote researchers from the Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust. Occasionally, individuals suffering from severe dementia have developed such advanced cases of decay that their teeth are nearly untreatable, say researchers.
“Especially when patients go to residential care, they tend to have a more sugary diet and have problems cleaning their teeth. If not looked after, their teeth can deteriorate quite quickly.”
Understanding the Connection
As part of their study, researchers surveyed 51 patients roughly 10 weeks following these individuals having received a dementia diagnosis. Researchers asked whether the study participants had a dentist and if they were receiving preventive dental care. Preventive dental care includes teeth cleaning, oral examinations, and dental X-rays.
Of the participants, 41 of the 51 were had or were seen regularly by a dentist, and 35 of the participants said they had visited a dentist within the last year. Roughly half of the participant received regular teeth cleanings.
However, while most of the participants were receiving regular to frequent dental care, preventive care appeared to be suffering. The majority of participants failed to receive advice on how to improve their diets or instruction on the best oral hygiene practices. Most were also not offered fluoride treatments, particularly fluoride varnishes, which can help to lower the risk for tooth decay and cavities.
“With dementia patients, we tend to be treatment-oriented and there’s not as much talk of prevention,” wrote researchers. “Early in the disease, we should build positive habits so patients don’t forget what their dentists advise.”
Advances in technology also seek to help make it easier for patients suffering from dementia to continue practicing the best oral hygiene habits. This year, researchers will begin testing an electric toothbrush that will remind patients how to brush their teeth thoroughly and record brushing information that a dentist can later use to determine oral hygiene habits. However, for many patients with dementia, family and caregivers become the most important means of helping to protect their oral health.
Advocating for Better Oral Health
If you help to provide care for a loved one suffering from the early stages of dementia, you can make an enormous difference in helping to protect, maintain, and improve their oral health. Here are a few things to keep in mind when helping to protect the oral health of a loved one with dementia:
- Oral health matters. Numerous studies have shown that poor oral health dramatically increases the risk for a range of chronic health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and arthritis. Dementia patients who ignore their oral health have a much greater risk for developing far more problems than to just the health of their smiles.
- Brushing is complicated. Properly brushing your teeth is a complicated process that requires many steps. While most of us brush simply on reflex now, individuals suffering from memory problems may forget some of the necessary steps. To reinforce the best dental hygiene practices, supervision may be required.
- You can brush anywhere. Brushing doesn’t have to occur in the bathroom. Over the kitchen sink or a basin set on a table can work just as effectively while making it easier and more comfortable for some individuals.
- Never try to force someone to brush. Patience is key when dealing with a loved one experiencing the effects of dementia. If you find some resistance to trying to get them to brush, simply take a break and try again later.
If you need family dental care in Beaverton, know that you’re not alone in helping to protect the oral health of your loved ones. Our team at Murray Scholls Family Dental is here to help. If you have any questions about the best practices for protecting the oral health of your loved one, feel free to ask Dr. Walker during your next visit.