How can I get my husband with Alzheimer's to visit the dentist?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband has advanced Alzheimer´ and he has been bipolar all his life. He is at the stage he hardly talks or recognizes anyone. Brushing his teeth as home after meals in impossible most of the time and it is now time for his dental check up. Last time (6 months ago) he cursed the doctor and left the dental chair. Fortunately his dentist was almost finished. How do I get his to accept a visit to the dentist?

Expert Answers

Monica is an occupational therapist and designer of adapted dementia products through her company MindStart. Activities for Persons With Memory Loss. In addition, she works with the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association and the University of Minnesota on dementia issues. MindStart provides age-appropriate and stage-appropriate dementia activities, such as games, puzzles, and books. The items are simplified to meet the needs of various stages of dementia while remaining dignified and familiar in appearance

Dental hygiene with Alzheimer's is a tough situation. Here are a few thoughts that might help. First, might the dentist consider coming to your husband? Just the trip to the dentist may get your husband upset. Second, schedule the appointment during your husband's best time of day. Third, perhaps a warm, heavy blanket (the weight of the blanket can be soothing) with soothing music might help your husband relax as he lies down. Alternatively, having a laptop computer or tv showing a favorite movie, photos, or video clips might distract your husband while the dentist takes a look. Last, a dessert or snack item your husband likes might be made available to show him that he can eat "after you open your mouth for the dentist." You might let the dentist know to do what he can in a short amount of time, knowing your husband might end the appointment suddenly. I hope these give some helpful ideas for you.

Community Answers

Suggestions from the previous answer might help but in some cases it is necessary to premedicate the person with dementia to decrease his anxiety. A short term anti-anxiety medication, such as Ativan, may be helpful.

Brenda avadian answered...

Getting your husband to visit the dentist is a challenge that can be overcome.

First, find a dentist in your health plan who is willing to work with a person with Alzheimer's.

Not all dentists are interested. My dentist welcomed visits from my father as he wanted to learn how to work with people with dementia.

Second, see if your dentist and his/her hygienists are flexible to take a last- minute appointment should your husband be open to going.

Third, if your husband is still interested in you, ask him if he can help you enjoy him more if he gets his teeth taken care of.

This assumes he still wants to please you and is feeling less depressed.

Fourth, be with him at the dentist's office and remind him why he's there.

Keep reminding him gently during the appointment in case he grows agitated. Motivate him with what he sees as a FUN reward--ice cream seems to be popular. Is there anything else he finds rewarding?

Each person is different.

My father wanted to make sure I felt comfortable with him. He wanted to please me. So, when I gently reminded him that his breath was bad, he cooperated by doing what I asked, "You need to brush your teeth. I want your breath to be fresh so I can get close enough to whisper in your ear."

Other times, I told him brushing his teeth and going to the dentist were for his own good. Sometimes, he agreed when I told him the dentist needed him because he was such a good patient and helped the dentist learn how to work with those who have Alzheimer's.

Finally, remember that your husband does NOT need to have his teeth cleaned after every meal.

Although ideal (and don't show this to my dentist!), I don't even brush after every meal! When I do brush each evening before bed, I do so thoroughly.

Brushing sometimes is better than not brushing at all. Catch your husband when he's receptive. He can't be an ogre 24-hours a day. If he is, I'll start sending you lots of hugs!

Merrily orsini answered...

Because the dental hygiene question with Alzheimer's is one that comes up regularly, I consulted a local geriatric specialist dentist, Barry Cerridan, D.D.S. All of the above answers agree with what Dr. Cerridan reported. However, there were some things that he emphasized, that bear repeating. The manner and approach of the dentist is crucial. Some of the common communication techniques used by caregivers, a) a calm approach b) no sneaking up on the patient, but rather talking directly to him/her c) touching in a safe and noticeable place prior to approaching d) respecting the person's space e) stopping when "no" is the response. If the dentist knows how to work with someone with a dementia, then the visit has far more likelihood of success.

Wasntmee answered...

Here's my 2 cents although the experts responding are all spot on:

My mom's dentist has a TV and music for distraction. We always medicated mom a bit as she could be a handful. I would repeat the message of good teeth helps the body. I'd examine hers a number of times before the trip to get her used to it but always tell her we need a dentist to examine her as well. I'd ask her if she knew any good dentists all the time because I need one soon. It just helps to have some sort of routine for everything IMHO. Good luck!