Dentists, doctors, and toothpaste advertisers all instruct us to keep plaque and bacteria out of our mouths by routinely brushing, flossing, and rinsing to fend off tooth decay and periodontal disease, but they may need to double-down on getting that message to people over the age of sixty-five.
Many recent studies link dementia to oral hygiene. Whether the connections to teeth and gums are attributed to causing dementia or how dementia can impact the overall health of your mouth, an increasing amount of research indicates that there is a pretty significant relationship between dementia patients and dental care that caregivers should be aware of.
The Link Between Dementia Care & Teeth: A Timeline
Poor Oral Health as a Possible Cause of Dementia
There are many speculative causes of dementia, from sleep apnea to a high-salt diet, though studies are indicating that the state of your mouth could also increase the risk of developing the brain-targeting disease.
Recent studies suggest that having a healthy mouth in middle and old age might defend against the development of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases.
Since the body responds to plaque like a virus, gums can become inflamed by the build-up of Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, which consequently can enter the bloodstream. Over time, this can trigger our immune systems to react and could lead to diseases such as dementia. Studies have also shown that poor oral health can increase the odds of developing the disease by 30-40% over three decades and having gum disease increased that risk by up to 70%.
The Side Effects of Dementia
As dementia symptoms worsen and your loved one or patient begins taking medications, teeth can start to wear down quickly. Often, dementia patients take to teeth grinding and clenching – a condition known as bruxism. While grinding teeth can be a symptom that is associated with many issues, dementia is a common cause.
If bruxism occurs, there are a number of possible treatments and, if it’s a severe problem, medications could be prescribed.
Oral Health Decline Due to Dementia
When the mind of a loved one starts to deteriorate, an unfortunate consequence tends to be that dental care falls by the wayside, resulting in rapid tooth deterioration for the dementia patient.
What Can Caregivers Do to Prevent Future Oral Health Risks?
Upon dementia diagnosis, it’s imperative to book a dental appointment right away. Dementia patients may develop anxieties associated with going to the dentist, so getting them in early can take care of any issues before the disease worsens.
Dementia patients will not always remember to brush their teeth in the early stages of the disease, but they will be able to do it on their own. It will be your job to remind them and supervise the task.
You may eventually be taking over the task of brushing their teeth, so ask a dentist for tips on how to do this. Perform regular mouth checks to make sure their teeth and gums are in good health and determine if a trip to the dentist is required.
When an appointment is necessary, choose a dentist who is calm and will coordinate their office around the visit with longer appointment slots and quieter rooms.
If your family member or patient is living with dementia, it may be beneficial to prioritize oral hygiene, in addition to scheduling routine appointments with their dentist.
Whether your loved one or patient is in the early or late stages of dementia, there are many ways that you can participate in the upkeep of their oral health. If you find yourself in need of direction, get in touch with one of our trained nurses who often care for individuals with dementia.