Alzheimer’s Disease and Oral Health

 

As a call to action and to raise awareness, Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. Since that time, the number of Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has jumped from 2 million to almost 5.4 million. We at Herald Square Dental and The Denture Center, NY are keenly aware of those suffering from this debilitating type of dementia. We want to join the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by educating ourselves, our patients, and caregivers on how to help those with AD maintain optimal oral health.

Today’s aging population is more health conscious than past generations, so they’ve got a head start on keeping their natural teeth healthy. But no matter how responsible and conscientious we are about caring for our oral health, aging brings health issues, and often, these health issues can make oral hygiene quite difficult.

The Caregiver’s Role
When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, the responsibility of keeping up with oral health habits frequently falls to the caregiver. First and foremost, we encourage caregivers to understand the importance of actively encouraging their patients to persevere in oral care. We realize it gets increasingly difficult, but it is more crucial now than ever. As we age, we become more susceptible to oral decay, tooth loss, periodontal disease, and bone loss. What else can a caregiver do to help a patient with AD maintain excellent oral care?

• Continue taking them to regular cleanings with their dentist.
• Schedule more frequent dental appointments, exams, and treatments.
• Help them with daily brushing and flossing.
• Have them rinse their mouths and removable prosthesis after eating.
• If in doubt, call us anytime to schedule an examination!

The Dentist’s Role
We understand that Alzheimer’s patients often feel trapped and can battle for control because their choices have been taken away. These feelings may cause them to react with anger or anxiety. We also recognize that another symptom of Alzheimer’s is the decreased capacity to regulate emotion. In addition, it is common for these patients to lose their ability to verbalize how they feel.

So while some people find Alzheimer’s patients’ reactions irrational or inappropriate, we understand them to make perfect sense, considering the circumstances. That’s why we embrace the opportunity to gently and patiently create a space for Alzheimer’s patients to feel like an important part of the
decision-making, giving them choices and control. We aim to:

• Use a gentle approach.
• Offer increased patience and understanding.
• Speak in simple terms.
• Provide short instructions.
• Model brushing and flossing techniques.
• Create choices that give them control.
• Coordinate with the patient’s other health care providers.
• Work closely with caregivers to ensure regular cleanings are maintained.

It is our priority, as dental professionals, to do all we can to provide Alzheimer’s patients with every opportunity to prevent oral infections and diseases. And we believe that meeting our patients where they are and giving them choices, kindness, and control is key. In addition to protecting that beautiful smile, we strive to make an impact on the disease through exceptional oral hygiene and preventative dentistry.