3 Dental Problems to Look for When Caring for a Parent With Dementia

While many parents only have children to take care of, there are also many who care for their own parents as well. If you’re facing the task of caring for a parent with dementia alongside child-rearing, don’t feel alone. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians living with dementia, with millions more in the country affected by the care of those with dementia.

Helping an afflicted parent can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible if you know what problems to look out for. One often overlooked issue affecting people with dementia is dental health. Those living with dementia are at greater risk of problems like decay, gum disease and cracked teeth.

The consequences of poor oral health often take a while to become evident. As a result, many who care for parents are so busy juggling the tasks dementia presents along with the care of their own children that they don’t notice the dental problems until it’s too late. Poor dental health can lead to everything from oral diseases and pain to difficulty eating and speaking, which can be seriously detrimental to a dementia sufferer’s wellbeing.

Despite these consequences, there’s no need to worry. By watching out for the three problems below and visiting your family dentist regularly, you can keep your parent’s mouth (and, in turn, their mind and body) healthy.

Problem 1: Infrequent Brushing

For most healthy people, the routine of brushing teeth every morning and night is as habitual as getting dressed. However, those with dementia can suffer from memory lapses and completely forget to brush.

If your parent is in the early stages of dementia, a couple of daily reminders to brush their teeth may be enough to jog their memory.

If the dementia is already in its middle or later stage, you may find that it’s more effective to physically help them to brush. Try holding your hand over your parent’s and guiding them through the process, delivering simple instructions as you move through each step.

Do this at least twice a day, preferably after waking up and after dinner and evening medication. If the person you’re caring for is open to the idea, try to get them to simply spit out their toothpaste instead of rinsing it out, which gives the fluoride more time to take effect

Cleaning between teeth is also important as it prevents bacteria from taking hold in the gum, so make sure your parent is using floss or interdental brushes daily (either independently or with your help).

Problem 2: Dementia Medications

There are a variety of medications used to relieve dementia symptoms, and treatment plans vary from person to person. Each drug comes with its own pros and cons.

One common type of medication used is the antidepressant. While this drug can have very positive effects, it can also come with the consequence of dry mouth. Dry mouth is caused by a decrease in saliva levels; aside from causing discomfort, it can also lead to quicker plaque build-up, tooth decay and periodontal disease.

At home, you can help your parent avoid dry mouth by reducing the amount of salty and caffeinated foods they eat and encouraging them to sip water regularly. If this isn’t enough to keep dry mouth at bay, talk to their doctor about artificial saliva options. If your parent takes a different medication, take a look at the list of side effects to find out what oral concerns you need to watch out for.

Problem 3: Sugary, Acidic and Starchy Diets

As dementia progresses, many carers find that it’s necessary to change their parent’s diet. Whether your parent has difficulty chewing and swallowing, problems with hot food or has just become pickier about what they eat, you’re likely no stranger to this problem.

While nutrition is the most important factor at play, it’s also important to consider the impact on dental health. If teeth begin to decay or gums start to swell, it will be even harder for a parent with dementia to eat healthily.

When planning your parent’s meals, make sure to avoid including too many sugary, acidic or starchy foods. These foods are cariogenic, which means they lead to tooth decay. Foods like fruits, honey, chutneys and jams are all fine in moderation but don’t overdo it.

If cariogenic foods currently make up the majority of your parent’s diet, you can try adjusting other factors that could cause poor nutrition by changing your parent’s eating habits. This may mean eating in a different room, cutting or pureeing foods, heating or cooling meals, or trying new recipes. If these are the problems that cause your parent to eat less nutritious foods, dealing with them may help your parent open up to a more varied (and less cariogenic) diet.

Aside from improving oral health at home, make sure you visit a dentist regularly.  Contact Eden Rise Dental  in Berwick, Victoria, to book an appointment with a great family dentist who will be able to offer dental advice and treatment to the parent you care for as well as the rest of your family.