What’s on the line? World Oral Health Day

A Project with Teeth in Southend Helps Dementia Patients

Dementia affects many aspects of a person’s life, but what is commonly overlooked is its impact on teeth. In Essex, an innovative pilot is helping vulnerable people win the battle against dental neglect and toothache.

One person every 3 minutes is diagnosed with dementia in the UK and in Essex, Southend and Thurrock, an estimated 19,000 people are living with dementia with a further predicted rise to over 25,000 in the next ten years (based on Office for National Statistics Population data, 2014). Research shows that a high proportion of adults keep at least some of their natural teeth; so dental care and easy access to high street dentistry, is vital.

As part of the pilot project, a toolkit has been developed which is transforming interactions with dementia patients to enable them to receive essential oral care. The easy-read materials with pictures, aid carers and dentists with preparing and treating local people with brain disease – and already, its being hailed a success.

Samantha Glover, Healthwatch Essex Vice-Chair and Dental Programme Manager at PHE, East of England explains:People with dementia may miss out on regular mouth care and dental visits – or worse – have dental pain needing unplanned-for dental trips. Carers may find it difficult to make themselves understood over what to expect from a visit to the dentist. While dental practitioners, themselves, may feel uncomfortable making decisions on behalf of the patient, which could in turn lead to treatment delays.”

PHE worked with Southend CCG, Borough Council and local stakeholders, to establish what stopped people with brain disease going to a dentist. They discovered that carers found it difficult to provide mouth care to someone unable to understand or co-operate and also had trouble explaining the process of a dental visit. Gaining ‘consent’ for dental treatment from a patient was equally problematic. All-in-all, dementia-friendly services at dental practices were all too often lacking.

To tackle these issues, three highly visual and colourful resources for people with dementia, carers and dental professionals were introduced. For people affected by dementia directly, a photo flip chart with a series of pictures and accompanying explanatory text was created to help prepare the patient, so they knew what to expect. For dental teams, an A4 laminated posted with ‘top tips’ was devised to act as a guide to support a patient with dementia and make the whole experience less stressful. Finally, a simple best interest flow chart was developed for the dentist in charge of the treatment to help with making decisions.

Samantha Glover states: The process to develop the resources was straightforward; the prompts aid discussions and helps familiarise the patient with what to expect, whereas the guidelines provide a useful cue for dental practices.”

The carer resource has been distributed to over 100 care homes in Southend and materials for dental teams have been introduced to over 22 practices along with the offer for Dementia Friends sessions within the practice. Already, the pilot is generating a positive response for being easy to use and effective.

As a carer, Cassie Searle from Southend, knows first hand how difficult it can be making people with the brain disease understood about visiting the dentists, she said: “During Dad’s journey living with dementia, he has struggled to go to the dentist and keep up with his oral health. One incident involved a member of staff greeting him in an apron – this frightened him and took a long time to get over, to go back. We used the resource for carers and had a much more positive experience as we had practiced with the PHE flash cards beforehand, prepared necessary paperwork, medication list and ailments for the dentists and even visited the practice – this resulted in a calm, and actually quite fun visit to the dentist, where his teeth and gums were checked.” 

If you would like to discover more information about what’s going on in your area, you can contact us for advice and support. Call us on 0300 500 1895, drop us a text on 07712 395 398, email [email protected] or message us on social media.