Yesterday morning was dentist day for yours truly. No cavities, aside from the between the ears kind…
The average adult homo sapien has 32 “permanent” teeth until we start whittling down the number, first with the wisdom teeth, then often through damage or mistreatment. It is possible to keep them until you die with appropriate care. This paltry number of teeth is a far cry from a giant armadillo with its 74 teeth, or a sea slug which has around 750,000 in its lifetime. (Note: The sea slug tooth fairy offered to buy my Ford Tempo, but only had a small conch shell and a slightly used Obama Phone as payment). As for me, I only have 24 adult teeth because I was such a mouth-crowded mess when I was a kid, the dentist yanked some of the extras in advance of nearly a decade of braces (including nighttime use of headgear). Today I have pretty decent teeth for a person in his late 20s (I am Twenty-Twenty-Eight years old). This trivia aside, it did get me thinking about dementia, like most things do. Sink your teeth in this:
- Care matters. If it can be said universally that “What is good for the heart is good for the eyes”, it might be able to be said the same applies for mouth health. Here are some solid articles discussing the possible correlation between mouth care/inflammation reduction and fighting/preventing the disease: Link Link Link Link Link . There seems to be enough smoke here to suppose a fire, but it is likely only one piece in the puzzle. There is always tension between correlation and causation (did it cause it or was it a result of it?)….but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a guaranteed link is found someday.
- Battle scars. I snuck (OK, sneaked if you insist!) a picture of my X-Ray and, while my teeth are in pretty good shape, you can see the battle scars. I broke a weakened tooth flossing a long time ago. I broke another eating ice (apparently that is a no no?!?!). I bashed my face into our porch step when I was a kid and damaged a baby tooth and only got 63 cents from the stinkin’ tooth fairy. She was apparently subsidizing the sea slug’s tooth fairy’s gambling habit? This accident also explains my rugged good looks, or lack thereof. Several fillings over the years too. Scars…sigh. The brain gets scarred as well. Plaques and tangles, sure, but the brain takes a beating in a lifetime. Every concussion, every time you beat your head into the wall watching politics or trying to remember your AOL password, a scar or a damaged spot. We simply must take better care of this mush pile!
- False teeth. Any discussion of teeth has to remind me of mom’s lost teeth stories. Here are two: Link 1 Link 2. I have been told that losing or swapping dentures is pretty common in memory units. Ay caramba!
- Habits. Habits, good or bad, are a key to successful living regardless how you define it. I love this man’s book on habits. My hygienist, who is quite nice although not super gentle, reminded me to floss early and often. I just cannot get in the habit at 4:30am. I need to get up at 4:25 I guess. 🙁 In dementia, habits and schedules play in dearly, as I have written many a time. Here is just one example. Mom and the Sweet 17 could get into a solid schedule at times and things would go well for a while. THEN….anything, something. An unscheduled death (not said tongue-in-cheek), a large family of visitors, a loud noise…you name it, and the routine would get out of whack and things would downwardly spiral.
- What you eat matters. I love taffy. My fillings, apparently not so much…. The things you eat, whether sugary sweets or sticky things, can hurt your teeth. I am certain, the more I read, that diet can certainly enhance your chances of getting dementia. As mentioned earlier, what is good for the heart is good for the brain…and likewise. The M.I.N.D. diet and several similar promise to fight dementia. They are worth your look. One book to consider is ***Brain Food by Lisa Mosconi, but there are many on the topic.
- Humor. The disease isn’t funny at all. It is the anti-funny. Mom has, however, even now, a keen sense of humor and comedy timing. I am certain she liked this classic:
- Drugs play into the equation if you use them right/early enough. When I was getting my wisdom teeth removed about 5 presidents ago, I woke up mid-removal. Approximately this is “a thing”, as the kids say… 1:1000 wake up during a surgery. It didn’t hurt (fortunately because I couldn’t communicate), but I remember the sounds and smells to this day. In dementia, one of the most important validations of the need to get screened and checked at the first sign of the disease is that the only drug that helps only helps extend the “easier” early stage (although it doesn’t extend lifespan as a whole). This early stage is comparably easy when compared to the rest of the journey and I would love to have more time in that stage. We missed this window with mom and she never really benefited from drugs minus anti-anxiety/sleep meds. You are always walking the line of too many/too few drugs. You want to cut the anxiety, but not at the expense of communication and general living.
(I thought this video was both funny and mean for this poor soul after getting her wisdom teeth removed. I suspect she probably inflicted harm on them the next day…)
- It takes a team. At the dentist, everyone has a specialty. The front desk ninjas juggle dozens of appointments, bills being paid and the like. The hygienist does most of the work. The dentist comes by, does some drilling here or there. All are critical. If one doesn’t show up, there is a problem for sure… Same with dementia caregiving. You NEED a team. No Lone Rangers here! Respite help. Medical team. Social worker. Elder law attorney (!!!!). Spiritual help. More. Here is a piece I did that outlines it a little although there are more.
- Don’t wait. With your chompers, don’t wait until something hurts. You can save a messed up tooth if you catch it in time. Heck, sometimes you can prevent all sorts of pain just by going to the dentist 2x a year (and daily brushing/flossing morning and night… at least). In dementia, I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: If you sense a problem, talk to the docs. Not just because the early stage meds have a better chance of “helping”, but because the longer you know, the better you can plan. You can build a care team. You can make arrangements and fix broken relationships. You can join clinical trails and you and your family can learn more and more about the disease. The more you know…the more time you have to work through the ramifications of the disease…the better you can make it for you and your family. I am sorry this sounds pessimistic. That is not my intent. My intent is to fight for all I have to end this disease. But not knowing does not help you any more than hiding under a blanket makes the boogie man disappear. It isn’t a plan. Talking to your doctor is the plan. 🙂
- There will be pain. Even with the no-cavity club/clean report, there was pain yesterday. I don’t floss like I should. I had some plaque. My hygienist worked my gums over pretty darn well. I left whiter in teeth and a little black and blue in my soul, but all was good. In dementia, pain abounds. I won’t sugarcoat this hot mess. My wonderful mom was transformed from a super talented musician with a wonderful sense of humor and an advocate’s heart to what she is today in a relatively short time (10 years ago was her diagnosis, but the last 18 months has wreaked havoc more then the previous 8.5 years). Today mom is in the final stage and is under hospice care, but is still happy and stable. All could be much worse… She is a believer and she clings daily to the promise of a heavenly home with no tooth decay, no pain and no dementia! In the meantime we are trying our best to find some answers while we still have her. Yes, sadly, there is much pain….
Update: Another good day for mom. I only got an hour or so with her yesterday. She has a couple new habits, one which is of more concern than the other. She licks her lips a lot. That is no biggie. Chapstick is easy peasy. The second new quirk is trying to chew on/swallow her strap for her fidget blanket. I and my sister have tried to look in her mouth to see if anything looks amiss, but it is hard. She stopped using her dentures several months ago, so it isn’t related to that… Stay tuned for an update as we figure out a
gum game plan…
***Full disclosure: when I include links for Amazon, I use the Smile.amazon.com link so you can have them donate to the Alzheimer’s Association or SeniorAge through your purchase. Amazon generously gives a small % to the charity of your choice through this program. Quite cool!