How dentists can detect dementia in patients

In an online exclusive, writer Jane Sandwood explains how dentists can recognise the signs and symptoms of dementia

13 September, 2017 / indepth
 Jane Sandwood  

Dentists are known for spotting cavities and persuading patients to floss. But did you know that dentists can also detect other health issues besides tooth decay or gum disease? While most patients experience dental anxiety before an appointment, paying a visit to the dentist may actually save a person from developing serious health conditions.

From the state of a person’s mouth, dentist can oftentimes detect the early stages of dementia. Patients with dementia normally fail to keep up with their oral hygiene, deteriorating quickly and abnormally in terms of oral health. If you are a dentist, you can do your part in recognising symptoms of dementia in elderly patients and encourage activities that promote brain health.

How dementia manifests in the mouth
The first warning signs of dementia usually occur when a person begins to forget parts of their everyday routine. This simple but critical evidence of neglect will manifest in a person’s physical appearance, including oral hygiene. Dentists can spot warning signs of dementia if a person’s teeth are decaying quickly, causing tooth loss and chronic pain. There may also be evidence of gum disease as a result of plaque build-up.

You can do your part in recognising symptoms of dementia in elderly patients and encourage activities that promote brain health

Jane Sandwood

As dementia progresses, patients will often forget to take care of their teeth. By setting out a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss in every bathroom, patients will be more likely to remember to brush on their own. Medication for dementia can cause dry mouth, and a lack of saliva can increase the risk of gum disease and infection. Make sure patients stay hydrated and utilise denture fixatives or artificial saliva if necessary.

Encouraging your patient to be proactive
If you have recognised any of these oral hygiene issues in an elderly patient, or you know for a fact your patient has dementia, you can encourage activities that may prevent brain damage and memory loss. For seniors, social isolation causes many health issues, increasing the risk for cancer and other serious diseases. Ask your patient about their friends and family, and propose some fun outings they can do with other people, like see a film or attend a concert.

In addition to encouraging sociability, dementia patients should also get plenty of exercise. Talk to your patients about the importance of physical activity. A little exercising each day goes a long way, as the body will grow stronger and the mind will be sharpened. Many local communities organise senior exercising classes, which can be a great way for seniors hoping to reduce the effects of dementia.

By recognising the symptoms of dementia in your elderly patients’ mouths, dentists can try their best to discuss ways to slow the progression of the syndrome and promote better oral hygiene.

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