Memory care dentistry is a form of specialized dental care for people living with advanced Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Due to cognitive impairment, most dementia patients require assistance from family members or care professionals to take care of their oral health. If you have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it’s crucial to help them keep up with their oral health.
It is estimated that about 6.5 million Americans suffer from dementia, with the number predicted to rise to 14 million people by 2060. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, making up an estimated 70% of cases.
Challenges of Oral Care in Memory Care Patients
- Number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s Dementia (2022): 6.5 million (Alzheimer’s Association)
- The oral health of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease can be worse than that of those without dementia. A recent study found that elderly people with dementia have higher incidences of tooth decay, cavities, and tooth pain.
- Tooth decay, gum disease, and soft tissue problems such as canker sores are oftentimes exacerbated due to aging and cognitive decline. More often than not, they have to depend on others taking care of their oral health home care routine, and in the majority of cases, that is not being done properly.
Common Oral Conditions of Memory Care Patients
Elderly people with dementia not only suffer from dental issues that come with advanced age, but also with cognitive impairment. They tend to have more problems with daily oral routine, gingival bleeding, gum disease, and mouth ulcers or sores.
Many memory care patients own dentures. These need to be removed every night to relieve the gums and clean the soft tissue, but oftentimes caregivers are not aware of patients’ dentures. Not removing dentures at night can lead to many issues such as bone loss, bad breath and gum disease, shorter denture lifespan, and increased risk of colds, infections and inflamed gums.
What Happens if proper oral care is not performed?
If proper oral care is not executed, severe problems can emerge, such as:
- Health complications, including heart disease, meningitis, and stroke
- Bacteria from the teeth traveling to the lungs, causing pneumonia
- And infections from neglected teeth spreading to the jaw, neck, or brain, causing secondary infections, for instance, Sepsis
Why Is It Important to Ask Memory Care Facilities/Caregivers About Oral Care?
It’s important to talk to your memory care facility about oral care because oral health is a critical component of one’s overall strength and well-being.
Consider asking your caregiver these questions:
- Is there a medical/dental director on staff? What kind of professional oral care is available?
- What kind of training does the staff have on daily oral care as well monitoring patients for possible dental issues?
- Are care activities recorded in the patient file/log?
- Is there a dedicated time for daily oral care?
- How do residents get dental treatments?
- Do you observe any issues with the patient’s eating habits?
- Is there a mobile dental clinic available for residents?
What Can You Do to Be a Part of the Dental Care Team and Participate In Decision Making?
Working with Your Memory Care Facility
Talk to your care facility often about oral health. Work with your care facility to ensure that the your loved one receives the necessary oral care:
- Being evaluated by the dentist every 3 months.
- At least twice a day, having the caregiver brush the patient’s teeth, gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth in a very gentle motion with a fluoride toothpaste.
- To avoid confusion or potential trauma, the caregiver should always verbally describe what steps they are about to take before doing so.
- If needed, wait until the patient is calm and cooperative. Allow plenty of time. The last brushing of the day should be done after dinner and any night-time liquid medication.
- Dentures should be rinsed with plain water after meals and brushed daily to remove food particles.
- Soak dentures in a cleanser or mouthwash solution nightly. Clean the gums, tongue, and other soft mouth tissues with a soft toothbrush or moist gauze pad.
- Flossing daily. If your loved one finds regular floss uncomfortable, try a proxabrush (dental cleaning accessory that has soft bristles – such as GUM Proxabrush) to clean between the teeth instead.
Ask your care facility to monitor your close one(s) for signs that may indicate that they have oral issues that require treatment:
- Mouth discomfort during meals or brushing/flossing
- Wince when they chew
- Stay away from foods that are hot or cold
- Swollen spot or pimple on their gum underneath a tooth
- Refusing to eat
Working with the Dentist
While it is very important in general to keep up with regular dentist visits and preventative checkups, it is even more important for people with dementia. Find dentists who have experience working with elderly patients and patients with dementia, or memory care dentistry.
Dental Innovations of Virginia strongly recommends more frequent professional assessment and care for patients living with dementia.
Tools and Devices that Can Help
3-sided toothbrushes assure gum line cleaning and better cleaning in less time.
Waterpik Water Flosser
Water flosser or oral irrigator that sprays water to remove food particles from your teeth.
Your dentist may use a bite block such as the Open Wide Mouth Rest shown here to help administer oral care for dementia patients. Bite blocks are usually made of acrylic and wire and help keep you from biting down completely.
Find a Mobile or Home-Visit Dentist Experienced in Memory Care Dentistry
Traveling with patients who have dementia is often difficult. You can have a mobile dentist come to your loved one instead! Mobile clinics – fully equipped dental clinics on wheels – can provide most preventive and simple dental treatments at the long-term care facility where your loved one resides. Another option is home-visit dentists, who can also provide routine care in the comfort of your loved one’s home.
We at Dental Innovations of Virginia are very experienced at working with both dementia and geriatric patients. Both Dr. Coe and Dr. Julie, the primary dentists, have family members who were affected by dementia. We make dental care convenient by bringing portable dental equipment to you.
With DIVA Mobile Clinic, we bring a fully-equipped dental clinic to your loved one’s care facility to provide routine checkups, preventive treatments, denture adjustment/extractions, fillings, cosmetic treatments (i.e. tooth whitening), night-guards/sleep apnea or snoring appliance, and urgent dental treatments. Getting started is easy! Just fill out our New Mobile Clinic Patient form, or call us at 703-454-5656!
For patients living at home, we can come to your home via our DIVA Mobile Home Visit service. With state-of-the-art portable equipment (fully reclining wheelchair, hand-held x-ray unit, and dental engine), your loved one can receive oral care in their bed, couch, or wheelchair. Contact us to schedule your home visit.
Of course, we also have a brick-and-mortar office if you or your loved one prefers a traditional dental office setting.
About Dental Innovations of Virginia
Dental Innovations of Virginia provides comprehensive dental services, and preventive dentistry for the whole family. In addition to our Lansdowne office serving the Leesburg, Lansdowne, Ashburn, Loudoun County areas, we also come to you via our DIVA Mobile Clinic service for patients living in long-term care facilities, and our DIVA Home Visit service for patients who prefer to receive treatments in the comfort of their own home.
Dr. Joon Coe, Dr. Julie Coe, and the rest of the DIVA team look forward to helping you achieve a brighter smile and the highest possible dental health. We’re located at 19490 Sandridge Way, Suite 160, Lansdowne, VA 20176. We’re open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Contact us to schedule an appointment or ask us a question about memory care dentistry or other topic related to dental care.