Alzheimer’s and dental health – Dad looks for the root cause


“Your Mom is definitely going to need two new crowns. And we’ll need to scrape her gums again in a month or so.” I am here today, at Dad’s request, to get answers to the questions he has yet to be able to ask Mom’s dentist.

“What’s causing Mom to need so much recurring dental work?” I ask.

“It’s the plaque,” the Dentist says.

“Plaque?  What plaque?”

“See?” he says, showing me Mom’s gums. “Due to poor brushing.”

Dad goes pale for a moment.  As a genuine, grade-A, dental hygiene advocate, Dad brushes his teeth three or four times a day.  And he tells Mom to brush her teeth three or four times a day too.  He even bought her an electric toothbrush and a timer to help her keep brushing long enough for all her teeth to be clean.

A prior conversation with the doctor at MemoryCare comes to mind. Dad had voiced concern that Mom had yet to help him clean the bathroom sink anymore. 

“Dad, remember the Memory Care Doctor said Mom probably forgets what she’s doing in the middle of the chore?  Mom wants to help…it’s remembering the steps and the sequence of the steps that’s the challenge.   Could it be the same thing with brushing her teeth?”

Dad is silent.  In time, I say out loud what we’re both thinking:

“From now on, Mom is going to need you to keep her focused while she brushes.”

Dad sums it up. “So now I am a tooth-brushing monitor.”

Have you thought about the impact on your Alzheimer’s Caregiver of becoming a hands-on care provider? What would it be like to get involved with a mate’s “activities of daily living” like brushing teeth?  Has your Alzheimer’s Caregiver shared any stories with you of moving from helpmate role to caretaker role?  Consider ways you can help your Caregiver cross a milestone like this, and move forward with acceptance.  Is there a space for joy and humor in it all?

3 Replies to “Alzheimer’s and dental health – Dad looks for the root cause”

  1. You never really think about all the daily rituals we do to keep ourselves healthy. Brushing, Flossing, bathing, washing your face when you get up, washing your hands… it goes on and on. Now that I have to help Mama do all these things, I am more aware of the automatic things we do that we take for granted. I remember the time Mama was taking a shower or supposed to be and no water noise came on. I walked into the bathroom and she was just standing there in the tub. She looked at me and said What do I do first? I waited till I had walked her thru her shower and got her dressed to go in my room and cry. Some days are better than others, but I now have to monitor every activity. It’s all in the days work of a caregiver.

  2. Beth – your story is a great reminder for us "Alzheimer’s Kids" that our Caregiver has his/her hands full every moment of every day. (Maybe this helps us be more patient in understanding why our calls roll to voicemail so often.)

    Your story also helps us see how an in person visit from us "Alzheimer’s Kids" can help. If we can be there to cook a meal, wash the dishes or start the laundry, we really do give our Caregiver the opportunity to put a little extra love and kindness in their caregiving. Everyone wins!

    Thank you for sharing, Beth!


  3. Thank you! My stepfather is my Moms primary caregiver. Hygiene is one of the first things to go and so important as we know. My Mom was so meticulous in her day but with the AD, she pretty much has forgotten how to do everything and needs constant supervision so that she doesn’t get lost in her task. This is a nice reminder to get her to the dentist..

    This is a good reminder

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