One of the issues caregivers face is ensuring proper dental hygiene for their loved ones. As memory slips, so does the concept of the kind of routines we take for granted as part of our normal day. The wakeup, hit the bathroom, shower, shave (if needed), floss, brush teeth, et al., becomes an illusive construct. The end of day wind down is the same. A foreign movie without benefit of subtitles.
“What? Brush my teeth, you’re so bossy!”
Caregivers know it hits straight into the dilemma of an individual’s sense of self and autonomy in the midst of an on-going memory meltdown.
At the dentist last week for Jed’s six-month check-up, we ran into the issue of dental hygiene. I’d warned our dentist on the phone when I made the appointment so she was prepared. What struck me though, was her incredible gentleness as she cleaned his teeth even as she used quite a lot more rigor than usual.
Sitting outside, I felt by turns sadness for what he was going through, guilt for not having implemented the secret sauce for twice daily brushing, and a sense of being beholden to her for her kindness.
“You’re doing good, Mr. Stevenson,” she said. “I’m so proud of you. I know this is hard.”
Jed didn’t complain and then in speaking with us afterwards she said, “Mr. Stevenson, I do need you to brush your teeth twice a day. And your wife, Malissa, is going to get you a special new toothbrush. It will be a lot of fun.”
One new Philips Sonic electric toothbrush plus a special new heavy duty prescription floride toothpaste later, we headed back to the dentist this week for a followup appointment to top off a filling that had come loose.
Sitting in the waiting room, I observed again the kindness the dentist showed Jed.
“Did you use your new Philips Sonic toothbrush today, Mr. Stevenson?”
He didn’t quite respond, and then taking a look inside his mouth said, “ah, it looks as if you did. Very good, Mr. Stevenson. That is wonderful. Keep up the good work.”
Yes, she was speaking to him like a six year old, but her manner had a sweetness, that disarmed his sense of violation at being told what to do.
What I felt was beholden to her. In what can seem like an indifferent world, her tenderness touched me deeply. I tear up now thinking of it. Just calling him Mr. Stevenson gave him an agency that was powerful.
Reflecting on it, I realized that it also gave me the sense that I wasn’t alone.
For further information on dental care for dementia patients, the Alzheimer’s Association has a very good primer, the link is here: Dental Care.
Aging Care also has some good suggestions: Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers.
As always, please feel free to contact me if you need help with caregiving.