7 October 2015

People with the early stages of dementia may be able to be detected by dentists through the state of their oral health, according to the British Dental Health Foundation.

The oral health charity says that many people with dementia are often unable to properly maintain their oral health themselves as their health declines and could be a key signal for dentists and doctors of the early stages of the disease.

The British Dental Health Foundation believes that by offering people with dementia plans for effective healthcare can ensure their oral health, and overall health, is not put at further risk.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, discussed how this could lead to better oral health care for people with dementia: "Dementia patients in early stages of the disease may have trouble communicating the problems they are having with their oral health.

"These patients need to rely on their dental professionals to recognise behaviour which is out of the ordinary and which may indicate mental health problems in order to get quick and effective support.

"As dementia is progressive, recognising it early means that an effective care-plan can be put into place before it leads to further health problems, including painful and extensive dental health issues.

A patient with dementia"Through proper maintenance of oral health in people with dementia there are many other benefits in terms of self-esteem, dignity and nutrition. What we must remember is that the impact of proper and improper oral health is no different for those who have and don't have dementia, and should be treated as accordingly."

The Alzheimer's Society estimate that there are currently more than 850,0001 people with dementia in the UK and this will be over one million by 2025. Studies2 have shown that people with dementia have poorer oral health than those without the disease due to impairment of cognitive skills and a reliance on care providers.

In the early stages of dementia the patient should try to carry their own mouth care for as long as they can with carers offering reminders or supervision.

As the disease progresses carers may be required to take on more responsibility for the patient's dental health as they may lose the ability to understand the ability to adequately look after it themselves.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society said: "We know how important getting a timely diagnosis of dementia is, enabling access to treatments and support and acting as a catalyst for discussions about how to live with dementia.

"If dental practitioners can help to spot the early signs of dementia through monitoring any deterioration in oral health, and help people to be diagnosed more quickly, that can only be a good thing.

"We look forward to working with the dental profession to help them spot the warning signs of dementia and then, where appropriate, refer patients to their GP for further investigation.

"Dentists have an important role to play in the identification of people showing symptoms of dementia. There needs to be greater integration between dentists and GPs to ensure information, advice and appropriate signposting takes place so that people with dementia can receive a timely diagnosis.

"Alzheimer's Society recognises how important an oral health care programme is for people with dementia. This programme should be established as early as possible so that people can independently maintain their oral health for as long as possible. Once the condition progresses their carer will need to support them in keeping their teeth healthy and a dentist should enable this to happen. Furthermore people with dementia in advanced stages may not be able to communicate that they are experiencing pain in their teeth so dentists should be trained to recognise other signs which may indicate an underlying problem. With appropriate training dentists will be able to help people with dementia maintain a good quality of oral health and reduce discomfort."