When a person has dementia, it can lead to struggles or lapses in everyday personal hygiene — including some problems that caregivers might not anticipate. A good example is dental care, which can sometimes be neglected. Caregivers may not be prepared to address this problem, and yet doing so can be crucial for ensuring the overall health of the individual.
Here is what you might expect: People with dementia can sometimes forget how to brush their teeth, or they may simply not remember why it is an important thing to do. This might require you, as the caregiver, to take a hands-on approach here. Here are some specifics:
- You may need to offer specific instructions — more specific than “brush your teeth.” Something like “Hold your toothbrush” might be a good start, followed by “put toothpaste on the brush,” etc.
- Asking the individual to watch you as you brush your own teeth might be a helpful approach, or else you might try putting your hand on the individual’s and providing guidance through the process.
- Remember that proper oral hygiene requires tooth brushing at least twice a day. If you have to do it yourself, make sure you leave time in the day for it.
- Be careful about the toothbrush you use. An electronic one, with its buzzing sound effects, may not be the best option for someone with dementia. Also, be willing to ask the person if they prefer a harder or softer bristle.
- Be aware of any signs of mouth pain, especially during mealtime; if you notice any, inspect the dentures (if applicable) for proper fit, and consider making an appointment with the dentist to see what is going on.
Dental health cannot be neglected, so remember: As the caregiver, this may be something you need to take control of.
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