Dental care is important for individuals with dementia or cognitive loss, as it affects their health, nutrition and personal feelings of confidence and self-esteem.
As the condition progresses it becomes more difficult for someone with dementia to look after their own dental health, this responsibility then falls to the caregiver.
While the importance of oral care is clear, in reality looking after another person’s dental health can be challenging. It’s often difficult to figure out what needs to be done, when and how.
Here’s a little advice on the key tools you need when it comes to helping with oral health:
- Toothbrush – A soft bristle toothbrush which is gentle on the teeth and gums is best. An electric toothbrush might be a helpful alternative as it cleans the teeth more quickly, however, test first to ensure the person being looked after likes it before making it a regular part of the routine
- Toothpaste – Avoid using toothpaste with strong flavours like mint, in favour for more neutral flavours and gentle ingredients for more sensitive teeth. Foamless tubes of toothpaste are another helpful option as foam can be a hindrance for those who find it difficult to spit. Use a minimal amount of toothpaste – no more than a pea size
- Wipes – Mouth wipes are very useful for helping to remove any debris like food which can be left in the mouth. Using an oral mouth swab soaked in water can help prevent the mouth from getting too dry. A dry mouth gel can also be applied using the mouth swab
It's important that dental care is carried out daily and regularly at a time when the individual is more receptive (perhaps after a bath), so it becomes a recognised part of their daily routine.
If the process is proving stressful, try implementing some of the techniques you use while helping with personal care, for example distracting them, or using non-verbal communication like touching them on the face and the mouth first before actually commencing care, so they anticipate your actions.
For those in the later stages of dementia, the Bedi Shield is an excellent little device for keeping the mouth open safely and comfortably, without the risk of being bitten.
With practice, it only takes a few minutes to carry out these steps, but the benefits would last much, much longer.