Dental health’s link to Alzheimer’s, and what it means for family members

Dental health’s link to Alzheimer’s, and what it means for family members

I know from personal experience how tricky it is to navigate oral care routines with Alzheimer’s patients, because my father lives with Alzheimer’s. The average number of years that a person lives after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is eight to 10 years, but some live another 20 years or more. It is important for the quality of these patient’s lives to maintain good dental health by brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly.

Helping maintain the dental health of a person with Alzheimer’s is not often at the top of a caregiver’s list but is important for quality of life, as research shows the significant link between oral and overall health.

To ensure that the Alzheimer’s patient is set up for oral health success, I recommend a patient’s caregiver and dentist have open lines of communication regarding care and the frequency of appointments. What’s necessary at a dental appointment may not be able to be accomplished in just one visit, or a patient may need to be seen every four months instead of six months. As a dentist, it’s helpful to understand the caregiver’s daily responsibilities to help the caregiver maintain good dental health for the Alzheimer’s patient. Many caregivers are not comfortable with brushing and flossing another person’s teeth and would benefit from some instructions by the dental team.

People with Alzheimer’s no longer understand the importance of brushing and flossing and often don’t have the manual dexterity to do it properly. They are at a greater risk of developing decay and gum disease and need assistance to maintain these oral health habits. If a patient can brush and/or floss on their own, its good to let them do it. When it becomes apparent they are no longer able to do a good job, caregivers can still let them do what they can and then go back and brush and floss again for them. Go slow, be gentle, and choose the best time and place to do it.

Food and beverage choices can also make a big difference in an Alzheimer’s patient’s dental health. I recommend that caregivers encourage drinking sips of water throughout the day and swishing with water after meals. Limiting snacks, especially chips, crackers, sweets and juice, can reduce negative impacts on dental health. Caregivers can also encourage chewing gum – containing xylitol instead of sugar – after meals, which increases saliva production to help wash food out of the patient’s teeth.

In addition to preventative care and maintaining a patient’s oral hygiene, caregivers should be on the lookout for any signs of swelling, loose teeth, or pain when the patient is eating. Taking a patient in for appointments and undergoing dental procedures becomes more difficult as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

Daily brushing and flossing to keep a patient’s mouth clean and healthy is very important. It also is encouraged for people of all ages to make this a daily habit, which can help prevent the disease before it has begun.


Dr. Abbie Goudarzi, who wrote this article, is a Delta Dental of Washington dental consultant (



Abbie Goudarzi and her father, who has Alzheimer’s, are examples of family members who maintain a focus on the patient’s dental as an important part of their quality of life.