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

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR DENTAL HEALTH


“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?