Not so long ago it was taken for granted that serious memory impairment was a normal part of aging. While some memory loss is common as people get older, and while we can joke about “senior moments,” the notion that mental decline is inevitable is just plain wrong.
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Yet mental decline does happen, and far too often the effects of aging have a negative impact on a person’s dental health. While the reasons for this are varied, the team at the Center for Dental Anesthesia in Alexandria believes that advancing age does not have to mean poor dental health.
A lot of people aren’t even sure how to refer to mental decline. They call it dementia, or even the outdated “senility.” But dementia is really a general term that describes a group of symptoms like reduced attention span, impaired learning ability, and – yes – memory. It is only when these symptoms begin to interfere with daily life that they become an issue. This article uses the term dementia in its broadest sense and acknowledges that it is an imprecise term.
Regardless of what it’s called, dementia is a major disorder with many implications. “As dementia progresses … oral care can be forgotten,” wrote the authors of a paper on aging and dental care. “There can be a disinterest by the individual affected by dementia in dental maintenance and a reduction in the physical ability of the individual to maintain their oral health and communicate dental problems.”
The Center for Dental Anesthesia specializes in Special Needs Dentistry and treats patients who are coping with declining cognitive ability due to the effects of aging.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, which hinders their ability to communicate. This in turn affects thinking and behavior. While dementia is a generic term, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for sixty to eighty percent of dementia cases in older citizens. Nearly five and a half million Americans, in fact, are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Other forms of dementia include:
- Huntington’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Mixed Dementia.
What all forms have in common is that they are progressive, meaning that symptoms become more pronounced as time goes by.
Our team provides outstanding
care for special needs patients,
including geriatrics … Dr. Zeyad
Mady and Dr. James Geren are
dentists with comprehensive training
and expertise, so you can expect a
comfortable and safe experience
These are frightening matters. Most of us have witnessed a loved one gradually succumb to dementia. It is only small comfort that the symptoms of dementia are, in some cases, reversible. These include vitamin deficiencies and thyroid problems. Most progressive dementias, however, are not reversible and cannot be cured.
There are many factors that increase the risk of developing dementia. Some of these, like aging, are beyond our control. Others, such as smoking and heavy alcohol use, are within our influence.
Because dementia is a progressive condition, the risk of other health issues stemming from it increase as time goes by. Balance problems, for example, can result in a greater risk of falling. It is therefore important to establish a good dental hygiene routine in someone who has been diagnosed with dementia.
Anyone who has been diagnosed should not be living alone. During the early stages, they should for taking care of their teeth and gums, and should be in control for as long as it is possible. They might, however, need some supervision, or need to be reminded to brush and floss.
It may be up to a caregiver to not only remind the person to brush. They may also need to give them the brush and toothpaste, and even show them what they need to do. If there are coordination issues, it may be easier for the person to use an electric toothbrush. At the Center for Dental Anesthesia, we have a lot of experience with dementia patients, and can provide advice on the best approaches for oral care.
The person with dementia may be a denture wearer. In such cases, it may be necessary to remind them to put them in; they may also need some assistance inserting them. They may also need help keeping the dentures clean. Some caregivers have found it helpful to mark the dentures, because people with dementia sometimes lose them.
As the person’s dementia progresses, there may be a decline in oral health. They may lose the ability to brush and floss on their own, or the understanding of how important it is. If that happens, it may be up to a caretaker to do it for them.
It is also possible that the person with dementia has discomfort with their teeth or gums but is unable to articulate the problem. Their caregiver or loved ones should be on the lookout for signs such as:
- Not wearing dentures
- Disrupted sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Pulling at the face or mouth
If you observe any of these behaviors, bring the person in to the CDA for an examination as soon as possible.
Help Is Nearby
The rate of dementia among Americans is increasing. During the next fifty years, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease alone is projected to triple. That means that more and more people will be need the services of dental professionals who are equipped to treat dementia patients.
No matter your age or condition, good dental health is important. No one should be deprived of quality dental care because of a disability. At the Center for Dental Anesthesia in Alexandria, we have years of experience in designing treatment plans for patients with all sorts of special needs. If you or a loved one is coping with dementia, please call us to schedule an appointment.
For anyone coping with dementia in a family member or loved one, an excellent resource is alz connected, an online support community.
 “The Connection Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dental Health”
https://www.ballasdentalcare.com/our-blog/the-connection-between-alzheimer-s-disease-and-den. Referred to hereafter as “Connection.”
 Dementia is general term: “What Is Dementia?”
The word “senility” has largely fallen into disuse. See
 Quote: “Dental problems and their management in patients with dementia,” p 4.
 Number of people living with Alzheimer’s: “Connection.”
 Other forms: “Types of Dementia”
https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/types-of-dementia, referred to hereafter as “Types of Dementia.”
 “Types of Dementia”
 “What Is Dementia?”
 “Dental Care and Oral Health, Factsheet 448LP. Referred to hereafter as “Factsheet.”
 Rates of dementia cases: “Treating Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease.”
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