Fighting Dementia for an Ounce of Dignity…

… And What Not To Say To Your Dentist!


It seems a busy time right now. I have got reminders for the kids’ eye tests popping through my letterbox every few days, secondary school open evenings to go to – as we need to choose Archie’s “big” school before the end of this month – and Martha and I both need our hair doing. Desperately.

I am feeling rather chuffed though, as the dentist is sorted. Tick! Done! We all went last week and so that is off my list for 6 months.

He was a new dentist. Very nice, too. The last one was so bad I complained. Hubby is quite brave, but even his legs were twitching as he lay, reclined in the chair, goggles on. She was only counting our teeth, but for some reason she seemed to poke and scrape at our gums with a very pointy thing, causing us all unnecessary pain. My teeth hurt for 3 weeks afterwards and I only agreed to go back if we could be seen by someone else.

“Yes, of course. We will put you with XXXXX” they told me.

We turned up to find that XXXXX was poorly, so we were being seen by the original, I’m-going-to-stab-your-gums-really-hard lady dentist instead.

We twitched and yelped in the chair again. She told me Martha needed a filling and that I was to make an appointment and to sign a form to say that Martha was okay with a general anaesthetic. I said I would on my way out. I didn’t. Instead we ran for the hills and never went back.

I took Martha to a private dentist for a second opinion. Just a bit of a natural groove in her tooth apparently. No need for intrusive digging and filling, just a fissure sealant to stop it from causing problems in the future.

So, my mission this year was to find a lovely dentist, and I did.

We all went last week for our check ups. I went a few days before the kids and was a little nervous. I mean, he would basically be staring at the lower part of my face with a magnifying glass and this is not what a 40+ woman needs. She needs no one to look at her upper lip or her chin ever, because no matter how many hairs she thinks she has found and yanked out, there will always be one she has missed. And, God only knows how she has missed it, as it will be the longest, darkest hair on her body.

So, anxiety levels were high. I wanted to make a good impression. And, I thought it was going well. My teeth were pretty good – no work needed, just a bit of a clean. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Then, I made the mistake: I went off-piste with the chat. I asked Mr Nice Dentist about Archie’s wobbly tooth and whether he would pull it out (Archie had asked me that that very morning) when the kids came to see him later that week.

Mr Nice Dentist explained that no, he wouldn’t pull it out if it wasn’t causing a problem, but that he could if Archie wanted him to. He explained there was a gel he could use to numb the area and he carried on explaining how he could do it. And then I spoke…..

“So you could, erm…..wank it out?”

WANK? What the…..!!!!

Surprisingly, he seemed not to notice and carried on speaking. I say surprisingly, because it really surprised me. So much so, in fact, that instead of letting it go – instead of ignoring my faux pas, I spluttered out loud, went bright red and shrieked: “I said WANK! I just said WANK! Oh My God! I am so sorry, why did I just say WANK?!”

I later concluded, as I replayed the horrifying moment over and over in my mind, at home, blushing into my Earl Grey tea that I was trying to say yank, but had mixed it up with whip (whip it out / yank it out). An easy mistake to make, I kept telling myself.


Anyway, the kids went a few days later and I managed to not swear or shout random rude words at Mr Nice Dentist. I left with my dignity (sort of) intact.

Mum would have laughed, had I told her the story. Or maybe she would have tutted, embarrassed at my uncouth behaviour. I don’t know.

Getting my mother to behave for the dentist is now a challenge. In fact, any of these sorts of appointments that were once routine are now extremely tricky. She had a mammogram the other day, my father went with her and asked to be allowed in the room, so that he could help with undressing her and encouraging her to stand where she needed to stand and do as she was asked.

She used to hate having a mammogram done, even when her brain worked and she understood the importance behind enduring the uncomfortable procedure. No surprise then, that in her dementia-riddled state she wasn’t having any of it. What must she have thought they were doing to her? How did she even try to make sense of it in her diseased brain? They gave up after a while and my father assured them that instead, he would just keep an eye on her and keep a look-out for signs of any change.

It is not something you think about when you first get the dementia diagnosis. You think about the big things; the memory loss, the forgetting people, names and faces, the confusion about where rooms are in the house, or directions to the shop. You think about not leaving them on their own and making sure they eat and wash and get to the toilet. But, you don’t think about how to get someone with advanced dementia into a dentist’s chair and how to keep them there, mouth open, obligingly. You don’t contemplate how you will encourage them to sit still for the hairdresser, because believe me, glossy magazines won’t work! You don’t worry about how you will get them to take their shoes off, so that you can clip their toenails, without them thinking they are being assaulted.

These little, but important things creep up on you and become massive, insurmountable hurdles when you are least prepared for them.

Does it really matter if my mother’s hair is unruly and unkempt? Does it really matter if her nails are overgrown and her teeth are dirty. Does it matter if she cannot have her mammogram?

I’d love to say no, that what matters is that she is calm and as happy as she can be. That she is warm, fed and comfortable. But, actually, I think the answer is yes. These things do matter.

Yes, because if she gets an infection in her tooth, or a severe problem, she will be in pain and will need more treatment. Getting her to sit for longer, for in-depth treatment is unthinkable!

Yes, because she could develop breast cancer and we wouldn’t know, and it is always best to know and to know early.

Yes, because my mother was an elegant, proud lady and she always had beautiful nails and tidy hair and she would be horrified to see herself dirty and unkempt.

Yes, because she can no longer do these things herself and so it is up to us to try as best we can to keep her true to herself.

Yes, because it matters to my father that my mother retains as much dignity as she possibly can as this disease continues to rip her from us without fair warning, without empathy, without care and without any bloody dignity.

So, the battle continues. The battle to give my mother an ounce of dignity whilst not causing her too much upset. The battle to keep her healthy and well, whilst not increasing her agitation and anxiety. TheĀ  battle to give my father peace of mind that he is doing enough for her, whilst not causing him too much distress.

It’s a battle we will ultimately not win, but not fighting for my mother’s dignity is simply not an option. We at least owe her the fight.

Miss you, Mum x

ma and pa


One thought on “Fighting Dementia for an Ounce of Dignity…

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  1. Hi Sarah, Visited your Mum in her new Home last week and seen her have a dental check up by two dentists. She didn’t seem too happy about it but didn’t fuss too much. Had a lovely couple of days out having lunch with your Mum and Dad. Keep your chin up. Love Auntie Lily xo

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