Dental students advise and support carers of dementia sufferers

A group of dental students from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry have worked with those who care for loved ones with dementia, to enable them to ensure that their charges maintain good oral hygiene.

The second-year students worked with the Alzheimer’s Society in Plymouth, who put the students in touch with local carers and helped them to develop their project.

The project began by preparing a questionnaire for carers, the results from which the students used as a guide to prepare an effective method to help carers maintain good oral hygiene for those with dementia.

By using the information from the questionnaires the students developed credit card-size information packs, which covered issues such as tooth brushing, diet, denture care and dry mouth.

The students also gave carers practical advice and support on helping their charges care for their teeth.

The information packs and practical sessions were extremely well-received by carers, as were the interpersonal skills demonstrated by the students themselves. The information packs will now contribute to a suite of such packs being created for different age groups by Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry.

Cara Ball, associate professor at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry and who oversaw the project, said: ‘This was a great opportunity for our students to get to know the carers of people with dementia and really understand the issues that they face. Our thanks go to our colleagues at the Alzheimer’s Society in Plymouth for providing the opportunity and being so supportive.’

Alison Cook, director of external affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, added: ‘This forward-thinking initiative not only helps to educate dental students about the daily challenges faced by carers, but directly benefits people with dementia. We know that as a person’s dementia progresses they may lose the ability to clean their teeth, or lose interest in doing so, and are at an increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and dental related pain. This project gives carers practical advice and training in oral hygiene so they can improve the health and wellbeing of their charges – while equipping the dentists of tomorrow to play their part in helping people with dementia maintain a healthy smile.’

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