If you've been given a medical power of attorney from (or obtained medical guardianship of) a parent who is suffering from mild to moderate dementia, you likely want to be proactive in protecting your parent's dental health. Because dental health is linked so closely with physical health and even mental health, receiving regular checkups and treatments is of vital importance for those who are already dealing with some level of memory loss. Read on to learn more about the tooth replacement option that works well for dementia patients, as well as options that may not be best for your parent.
Why is it important for dementia patients to replace missing or damaged teeth?
While maintaining good oral health is important at all ages (and for all stages of health), avoiding tooth loss is particularly important for those suffering from dementia. Studies have suggested that tooth loss can accelerate memory loss, and losing one tooth can impact the health of the opposing tooth by eliminating the biting surface. The adjacent teeth may also shift somewhat to help fill in the missing space, which can impact the bite of other teeth. Once several teeth have been lost without replacement through a dental implant or bridge, the prospect of losing additional teeth can become more likely, and your parent may wind up having his or her teeth pulled and replaced with dentures.
The challenges of communicating with a dementia patient can mean that dental problems are more likely to lead to long-term health problems. If your parent isn't able to easily communicate that he or she is suffering from dental pain, a deep cavity or infected nerve may go untreated -- causing a loss of appetite, potential weight loss, and even the risk of dental abcess or bone infection. Your parent may have trouble with performing his or her own dental care, so they may not brush and floss as frequently as is recommended.
These factors make regular dental care for dementia patients of the utmost importance. By catching small cavities at an early stage, a dentist can create a filling that will prevent further damage to your parent's tooth, therefore minimizing the risk of tooth loss.
How can you replace teeth your parent has already lost?
If a tooth has been pulled or lost and is completely gone, it's best to replace it before the adjacent and opposing teeth begin to suffer problems. The best way to accomplish this is usually through a permanent dental bridge -- a false tooth that fits in the missing space and attaches to the two "anchor teeth" on either side of the gap. Unlike removable dental bridges, which must be removed and soaked in a disinfecting liquid each night, a permanent bridge remains in your parent's mouth at all times and essentially acts as a false tooth. These bridges can be designed to replace one or several teeth and should pose no problems as long as the anchor teeth are in generally good health.
Another tooth replacement option is a dental implant. Unlike a bridge, which sits on the gum's surface, a dental implant involves the insertion of a titanium anchor rod in the jawbone. The false tooth is then affixed over this anchor rod to create a tooth that looks and feels exactly like a natural tooth. Over time, the bone surrounding the titanium rod will envelop it completely through a process called osseointegration.
While dental implants can be a great option for those who are younger or in generally good health, the time it can take and the amount of pain and shock to the body by drilling directly into the bone may make this a bad idea for those suffering from dementia. In addition, patients with osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, or other pre-existing medical conditions may not be great candidates for dental implants. Unless your parent has no other comorbidities and his or her dementia is mild enough to withstand extended dental treatment, a bridge is likely the better option. For more information, contact a business such as Rose City Dental Care.Share