Alzheimer’s and Oral Health: What You Should Know

June 2016

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Alzheimer’s and Oral Health: What You Should Know

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, a time when it is important for us to talk about this difficult disease and what we can do to help those affected by it. In addition to learning about the effects of Alzheimer’s and donating to groups that research it, we can also directly help the people we love who have it in a number of ways. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests doing the following:

  • Encouraging the person to keep his or her normal routine
  • Helping the person to remember appointments and activities
  • Asking how you can be supportive
  • Finding a support group for your loved one

Part of keeping your loved one healthy will be to understand how oral health plays a role. Below is some information regarding what you should know about Alzheimer’s, dementia and dental care.

Why It Matters

Oral health and overall health are linked together, as poor dental hygiene can result in illness. Therefore, helping your loved one keep his or her dental appointments and cleanings is essential to his or her wellbeing. Additionally, having a bright smile and clean mouth can boost someone’s self-esteem, which is especially helpful for someone struggling with memory issues.

Daily Care

Someone with dementia in the early stages will likely be able to keep up with flossing and brushing alone. However, it is possible that he or she will need to be reminded and possibly supervised. In the later stages, the Alzheimer’s Society states that it is possible that your loved one will no longer be able to clean his or her teeth alone. Caretakers may have to complete the task, and a dentist or hygienist can provide tips for doing so.

Medications

The Alzheimer’s Society points out that people who suffer from dementia-related illnesses are often prescribed medications. For example, antidepressants or, to a lesser degree, sedatives or antipsychotics may be prescribed. Unfortunately, one side effect to these drugs is dry mouth.

When someone experiences dry mouth, it means that there is a lack of saliva. This can result in increased plaque and put the person at risk of decay, infection and gum disease. It can also take a toll on someone with dentures.

A dentist should be made aware of any medications your loved one is taking so an effective treatment plan can be made. Additionally, at the first sign of dry mouth – such as frequent thirst, mouth sores or a dry, raw tongue – a dentist should be alerted.

To learn more about what you can do to help someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association.

6 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Your Saliva

You may not realize just how powerful your saliva is. In fact, you might think it’s a little gross, right? Most people don’t talk about it, and we cringe if we see someone drool or spit.

Saliva, however, is really cool and an essential part of not just your oral health, but also your overall health. Here are six awesome facts about that stuff in your mouth:

1. It’s not just water

Saliva doesn’t really have a taste, and it is actually almost 99 percent water. However, it also has minerals, vitamins, hormones, proteins and other substances. It will also contain traces of anything you put in your mouth, like toothpaste and food.

2. It starts the digestion process

Your body may do the brunt of the work further down, but the saliva in your mouth actually starts digestion. The enzymes in your saliva help to break down fats and starches in your food. It also provides lubrication necessary to swallow food. Imagine eating saltines without saliva! Impossible.

3. Enough to fill a 2-liter

Your saliva glands will produce as much as 2 liters of saliva a day. They have to! Saliva plays a vital role in keeping harmful bacteria away from your teeth and gums. Bet you won’t look at that bottle of soda the same ever again.

4. A telltale sign of your age

Over time, the DNA that is in your saliva can actually change. DNA undergoes methylation as we age, which means that certain genes are activated and others are turned off. Diet and other environmental factors can contribute to this process. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles found that by focusing on just two genes in saliva that tend to be affected by this change, they could guess the age of the person to within five years.

5. A natural painkiller

There is a substance known as opiorphin in your saliva. This is a painkiller that harnesses six times the power of morphine. How? It protects chemicals that are responsible for preventing your brain from receiving signals of pain. If those chemicals start to break down, those signals reach the brain and alert you that you are in pain.

6. The pros and cons of parent saliva

A baby loses her pacifier on the ground. A mother picks it up and, instead of rinsing it in the sink, puts in her mouth to clean it and then hands it back to baby. There are two sides to this story: the first comes from the dental community, which warns that this can transfer harmful bacteria to the child’s mouth and lead to tooth decay in baby teeth. The other side is comes from several studies that suggest that doing this could almost inoculate the child against allergies. The safest bet? Rinse the paci under water or sanitize it according to directions.

There is no doubt about it – saliva is pretty cool!