There is a close relationship between dementia and dental health. Keep reading and find out about how the mouth is affected by suffering from this mental disorder.
Last update: November 28, 2021
All parts of the body are connected to each other, so problems in one sector can cause damage to other distant sites. In this article we tell you about the relationship between dementia and dental health.
Neglecting oral health not only causes dental diseases; It can also have consequences in other systems far from the mouth and favor the appearance of many disorders; dementia is one of them.
However, it must be borne in mind that patients suffering from dementia are unable to carry out activities of daily life by themselves. Therefore, if someone else does not take care, oral health care is often forgotten. Are you interested in knowing more about it? Keep reading!
Relationship between dementia and dental health
Poor dental hygiene and a build-up of bacteria in the mouth lead to tooth and gum disease. Likewise, disorders can be generated in other parts of the body. There is evidence of the relationship between periodontal problems and diabetes, as well as with heart and vascular conditions, for example.
The state of dental health is also associated with the appearance of neurological disorders, such as dementia. This progressive neurodegenerative disease impairs the ability to perform activities normally. It decreases memory, reasoning and communication, and alters behavior.
While the precise etiology is still unknown in many cases, chemical changes in the brain and death of nerve tissue are known to occur. There is an association between oral germs and the suffering of these disorders. Microorganisms in the mouth could reach the brain and cause significant inflammation and damage.
People who do not brush their teeth and have poor oral hygiene are more likely to develop mental illness. So that, the habits that take care of the mouth with determinants to reduce the risk in the future.
In any case, when the pathology is already installed, there is still a close relationship with the mouth. Dementia negatively impacts dental health. In fact, studies suggest that the rates of oral problems are higher in people with cognitive impairment.
The inability to perform daily activities makes it difficult to maintain oral care routines. This results in a higher prevalence of caries, periodontal disease, untreated lesions and loss of teeth.
Most common dental health problems in people with dementia
People with dementia can have different dental health problems. The decrease in the ability to maintain adequate dental hygiene or their prostheses is one of the most significant causes of oral deterioration.
In addition, dry mouth, changes in diet and the medication used to treat these disorders favor the development of diseases. What are the most common health problems? We detail them below.
Gingivitis and periodontal disease
When oral hygiene is inadequate, bacteria and food debris settle and accumulate on tooth surfaces and gums. This is what is called “bacterial plaque.” If not removed with daily brushing, it can calcify, leading to tartar or dental stones.
These accumulations of bacteria and tartar cause inflammation of the gum tissue or gingivitis. The gums turn deep red, swell, hurt, and bleed easily. Without prompt treatment, it can progress to periodontal disease.
The inflammation progresses and the tissues that support the teeth become infected. Consequently, deep pockets form on the gum, containing tartar, bacteria, and pus. In addition, the bone that holds the teeth is destroyed, causing them to move or come out.
As if that were not enough, this inflammation does not only have consequences in the mouth. As a study by the University of Cartagena shows, it also worsens and accelerates the progression of cognitive deterioration of certain neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.
Tooth decay is another common dental health problem in people with dementia. Tooth crowns, element necks, and roots are the most common locations of lesions in these patients.
It involves the destruction of the hard tissues of the tooth by the action of acids produced by bacteria in the mouth when metabolizing carbohydrates in the diet. Lack of dental hygiene and a diet rich in sugars favor its appearance.
If the loss of minerals from the teeth is not treated in a timely manner, the tooth is gradually destroyed. The lesion advances towards the center of the dental element, where the pulp is located. Thus, patients can present tenderness, pain and complications, such as infections or fractures.
Xerostomia or dry mouth is a fairly frequent dental health problem in patients with dementia, especially in those taking antidepressants and sedatives. Many medications used to treat dementia decrease salivary production, resulting in dryness.
The lack of hydration in the mouth causes discomfort to eat, swallow and speak. It also creates problems with dentures by making it difficult for them to stay in place or by making them uncomfortable to wear. Likewise, it favors the development of cavities and periodontal disease.
Other oral problems
Dementia can promote the appearance of other dental health problems, such as lesions in the mucous membranes. Carelessness and lack of maintenance of prostheses It is associated with the appearance of stomatitis, hyperplasia, ulceration and mycosis in the mouth.
Inflammation of the corners of the lips (cheilitis) and the rest of the oral mucosa (mucositis) are also common in these patients. They can even present hyperplasia or enlargement of the gums due to the use of certain medications.
Importance of taking care of dental health in people with dementia
Ensuring the dental health of people with dementia is essential to avoid the aforementioned problems. In general, this brings the following benefits:
Improves quality of life: patients will be able to perform oral functions without problems. Thus, they will be able to talk and eat comfortably, without feeling pain and with an appearance that gives them security and confidence.
Medical issues: By minimizing oral microorganisms, complications of the disease or the appearance of new disorders in other parts of the body are avoided. Also, the side effects of some medications used to treat dementia are monitored.
Dental reasons: oral health care prevents the appearance and development of oral pathologies and their complications. In this way, the teeth and mucous membranes are healthy, which avoids emergency consultations and the need for dental extractions.
Improve behavior: Having discomfort or pain in the mouth can make people with dementia irritable or aggressive. They may even refuse to eat or clean themselves.
Tips for maintaining dental health in cases of dementia
Caring for people with dementia It can become difficult and often requires the assistance of companions. Here are some tips that can help you maintain your oral health.
1. Oral hygiene
Carrying out adequate oral hygiene is essential in these patients. It is essential to remove plaque deposits from the teeth and gums. If the person has not lost the ability to maintain their care routines, they can do it on their own.
This should include regular tooth and gum brushing three times a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. What’s more, the use of dental floss, irrigators or interdental brushes is convenient to clean the area between the teeth.
Your dentist may also recommend the use of fluoride or chlorhexidine mouthwashes. These products help reduce bacterial growth or prevent cavities.
If the ability to handle the toothbrush or perform the cleaning routine is affected, it is important that caregivers or family members help the person with this task. There are different techniques that can be used for this purpose:
Give guidance: short, precise commands to break the process down into small steps; take the brush, put paste on it, put it in your mouth, and so on.
Copy: the person is encouraged to copy another who stands in front of them and is also cleaning their teeth.
Bridge: the person with dementia holds a toothbrush and the caregiver cleans teeth with another brush.
Hand over hand: the patient holds the toothbrush, and the caregiver’s hand guides the movements to clean the teeth together.
Yawn: the caregiver yawns in front of the person with dementia to stimulate their mouth opening and take advantage of the moment to brush their teeth.
2. Caring for dentures
If the person uses dentures, their maintenance is of the utmost importance. The prosthesis must be removed from the mouth at the time of tooth brushing. Likewise, it must be properly cleaned with ordinary soap and water. To do this, use a soft toothbrush.
Every one or two weeks it is recommended to immerse the prosthesis in a glass with an effervescent antiseptic tablet to clean the deepest impurities. In addition, every night it is recommended to remove the prosthesis and leave it in a glass of water.
Note: If the patient lives in a nursing home, identifying the denture with a first and last name will avoid confusion or loss.
3. Control diet
To maintain proper dental health, food care is essential. Controlling the intake of carbohydrates and reducing the consumption of refined sugars and ultra-processed foods brings well-being to the person and reduces the risk of oral pathologies.
Adequate hydration, preferring water over other drinks, is also important. In this way, the dry mouth so common in these people is counteracted.
4. Regular visits to the dentist
It is very important that people with dementia keep visiting the dentist regularly. The professional will be able to help maintain dental health, detect problems that appear early and advise caregivers on the patient’s oral care.
If it is possible to continue with the lifelong dentist, with whom the patient is already familiar, the practices and acceptance of treatment may be easier. However, there are more serious cases that will require the attention of specialized professionals.
It is recommended that the person with dementia go to dental check-ups accompanied by your caregiver or a family member. This will avoid moments of tension or stress in the face of the unknown.
When visiting the dentist it is essential to let him know the diagnosis of dementia. It is useful to go to the consultation with a complete medical history and a list of the medications that the person takes.
Commitment to dental care
Dental health care involves practicing habits that dementia patients cannot sustain on their own. Have family members, caregivers and dentists Committed to your well-being is essential. With the right accompaniment, the deterioration of oral health can be avoided.