The Dentist Magazine.

Dentists can make a vital contribution to dementia patients’ quality of life

Published: 29/05/2018

Dental professionals have an important role in the well-being of patients’ who suffer from dementia, according to the Dental Defence Union (DDU), who have released the latest edition of the DDU journal today. 

As Christine Osborne, general dental practitioner and clinical dental adviser, explains, “There is no getting away from the fact that the patient's dental health will often go downhill as dementia progresses. Patients are more likely to forget to brush their teeth and dry mouth is a common side effect of many of the drugs prescribed to the elderly, increasing the risk of decay and infection. However, good dental care can make a huge difference to these patients’ wellbeing.”

Leo Briggs, deputy head of the DDU, said, “As dementia becomes more prevalent within society, the DDU recommends that dental professionals improve their understanding of the condition and the dento-legal concerns that may arise. Understanding how to assess a patient’s capacity to make decisions, when to involve others and the need to adapt your communication style will help. The DDU’s dento-legal advisers, who are all registered dentists, are also on hand to advise members with specific concerns. ”

The DDU suggests considering the following actions:

  • Work with carers and support staff if it is in the patient’s best interest. However, if a patient has capacity you must seek their consent before sharing personal information with others. Remember that a patient’s ability to consent may change over time and can also depend on the complexity of the decision.

  • Understand the process for assessing patients' legal capacity and best interests as set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and its accompanying Code or the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000

  • Obtain the details of any individual who has legal responsibility for the patient's welfare, for example someone with lasting power of attorney.

  • Ensure communication and body language is appropriate. For example, always introduce yourself and keep questions simple.

  • Provide written treatment plans, using simple, non-technical language.

  • Make sure you understand your legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and its statutory Code of Practice and be aware of relevant guidance such as the Faculty of General Dental Practice (FGDP)’s recent Dementia – Friendly Dentistry: Good Practice Guidelines.

  • Utilise sources of advice including charities such as the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK.