People living with dementia must be helped to maintain good oral health, a charity has insisted.
According to Dementia UK, keeping teeth and gums clean and free of debris helps dementia patients maintain their self-esteem and avoid pain and infection. However, the charity has pointed out that people with the condition have a high rate of tooth decay and untreated lesions. "This may be because they find it difficult to perform normal daily activities and require some support to keep up with their oral hygiene routine," it said. "Others may not be able to express that they have a toothache and leave problems untreated." Dementia UK has advised anyone caring for someone with dementia to try to avoid giving them too many sugary foods, both at mealtimes and between meals. This, it said, is because sugar can cause tooth decay, particularly if it is eaten too frequently.
Furthermore, the charity pointed out that drinks that are labelled sugar-free could still harm a person's health if they are acidic.
"Water is the best drink to consume to avoid damaging teeth, and milk, and unsweetened tea and coffee are good to have in moderation," Dementia UK advised.
The organisation also insisted that everybody should have their mouth cleaned twice a day.
As a result, people looking after someone with dementia should ensure they continue doing this and help them if they are unable or unwilling to do it themselves.
"You may want to make brushing your teeth an activity you do together so that you can prompt, observe, and help them if needed," the charity recommended.
Dementia UK went on to state that if a person with the condition is confused or uncomfortable about any change in their care routine, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate this problem.
For example, it suggested that people looking after dementia patients make sure they give them short, clear instructions.
In addition, the charity said they could demonstrate what they need to do, before gradually and gently guiding the patient to take care of their mouth and teeth.
The organisation also encouraged people to be mindful of signs of discomfort in anyone with dementia.
"The person may hold their face, grimace, struggle with ill-fitting dentures, have loose teeth, frequent bleeding or sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink," it said.
"If you notice any of these signs, consult a dentist as soon as possible."
Dementia UK added that if a person needs to brush somebody's teeth for them, they could try supporting their jaw to keep their teeth together to help clean the outer surfaces.
They could then encourage the person to open wide to help them clean the inside and biting surfaces of the teeth, possibly with a child's toothbrush as it could be easier to use.
People were also advised to only use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing no less than 1,450ppm fluoride and use gentle, circular movements while brushing.
In addition, Dementia UK stated that extra attention should be given to the area where the tooth meets the gum.
"It’s also important to keep up with routine check-ups at the dentist, remembering that the person with dementia may need support in arranging and sticking to appointments," the charity added.