Our dental health is impacted by a variety of factors, including unique conditions or diseases we may each be living with on a daily basis. However, even though there may be added layers of complication when it comes to managing everything that your body is dealing with, you may still be able to positively impact its overall state. This may be influenced by how you address and maintain your oral hygiene routine. We’re going to take a look at the connection between Alzheimer’s disease and dental health throughout this piece to help you identify and understand where you can help yourself, or those in your life living with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as tips on how to do so effectively.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior; its symptoms typically are severe enough to interfere with daily life, rendering an individual in need of support in most cases. It’s a progressive disease with no current cure, though symptoms can be managed and treated to temporarily slow down and to improve quality of life for both those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
What does Alzheimer’s have to do with dental health?
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), a study has identified a strong link between gum disease and dementia; in particular, Alzheimer’s disease. The study purports that the mouth is home to 700 different species of bacteria and suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with bacteria that cause dementia.
Because gum disease is caused by infection of the oral tissues designed to keep your teeth in place, you may experience bleeding gums, loose teeth or tooth loss. Moreover, the study claimed that “bacteria and the inflammatory molecules they make can travel from infections in the mouth through the bloodstream to the brain”.
Although there is still long-term and follow up research to be performed to further support this correlation, one hard truth is that Alzheimer’s disease does interfere with the ability to perform routine daily tasks. This may mean that individuals living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will inevitably forget to brush and floss their teeth, or recall why it’s important to do so.
How do I promote the importance of dental health to my loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease?
As we know, proper dental health and oral care is critical when it comes to preventing: eating difficulties, digestive problems and infections. If you’re a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, then you’re probably going to have to take a more hands-on approach when it comes to helping this person maintain and address their dental health routine.
Especially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to help your loved one focus on prevention. What does this mean?
- Contacting your dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings
- Helping your loved one to perform brushing and flossing daily in an effort to prevent the need for extensive & more involved procedures as time goes on
As your loved one’s Alzheimer’s progresses, here are some tips on how to continue to promote the importance of dental health:
- Provide short, simple instructions about how to brush/floss and why this routine is important
- For example: instead of just saying “brush your teeth”, try instructions like “here is your toothbrush”, “hold your toothbrush”, “squeeze this toothpaste onto your brush”, “now brush your teeth”
- Demonstrate how to brush/floss by using a “watch me” technique
- Gently brush their teeth and gums for them, if they don’t show resistance to this approach
- Try different types of toothbrushes; if an electric toothbrush isn’t helping to get the job done, move on to a manual brush
- Encourage regular flossing, but if your loved one is having trouble with floss itself, consider using a “proxabrush”
- Be observant of any potential mouth pain; if your loved one is no longer eating regularly, s/he may be experiencing some discomfort
If you or a loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it’s important to know that your dental health still matters. Reach out and contact us at any time with questions or concerns about Alzheimer’s and dental health.
For information on diabetes & dental health, visit our previous post in this series: understanding the diabetes & dental health connection.