Over a million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, and doctors diagnose 50,000-60,000 new cases every year. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects a variety of body movements, and sufferers experience a range of symptoms. People with Parkinson’s can face several problems when it comes to oral health, and it’s often harder for them to maintain good dental hygiene. If you or a loved one suffers from Parkinson’s disease, learn more about the effects this can have on your dental health, and what you can do to deal with the problems you may face.
How Parkinson’s affects your body
Parkinson’s disease (PD) causes the malfunction and death of vital cells in the brain, known as neurons. The condition primarily affects neurons in the substantia nigra, which is the part of the brain that releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine controls movement and helps with coordination, and symptoms start when 70 percent of the cells that produce the chemical stop working properly.
Doctors recognize three types of symptom that affect PD patients. These are:
- Primary motor symptoms, including tremors, bradykinesia (slow movement), rigidity in the limbs, neck and trunk, and postural instability
- Secondary motor symptoms, including freezing (when walking or pivoting), micrographia (where your handwriting shrinks) and unwanted fast movements
- Non-motor symptoms, including loss of smell, constipation, sleep disorder and mood changes
A doctor may diagnose PD when you show at least one of the most common motor symptoms. That aside, PD affects everyone in different ways. Some people will experience tremors as the primary symptom, while other patients will suffer primarily with their balance. In some patients, the condition degenerates rapidly, while other people experience a slow increase in symptoms.
How Parkinson’s affects dental health
Parkinson’s patients suffer physical symptoms that make it harder to keep up with good dental hygiene at home. Simple tasks like brushing or flossing your teeth need good muscle to eye coordination, and tongue-cheek-lip control, and the primary symptoms of PD like tremors can make it difficult to hold and use a toothbrush effectively. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, around half of all people with PD have problems with a daily oral routine.
To make matters worse, Parkinson’s symptoms can also cause problems with a visit to the dentist. People with PD often find it harder to swallow, which can increase the risk of choking on dentistry equipment. PD medications like levodopa can also lead to problems with teeth grinding, and people with the condition also often suffer with dry mouth, which can increase the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
Behavioral problems and dental health
People with Parkinson’s also suffer from behavioral problems that can affect dental health. Conditions like depression, apathy and forgetfulness are all common with PD, and can all mean that patients don’t look after their teeth properly at home. Cognitive problems also increase the risk that people with PD will miss or forget dental appointments.
PD also affects diet and nutrition. People with PD often need to consume more calories, but don’t always have a strong appetite. This situation can lead to greater consumption of sugary foods, which can increase the risk of tooth decay.
Improving dental health at home
People with PD can make several changes that will make it easier to look after their teeth at home. These include:
- Use of an electric toothbrush, which offers many of the motions that people with PD struggle to make unaided
- One-handed preventive strategies, where you concentrate on using the stronger side of your body
- Prescription strength fluoride gels to protect tooth enamel from cavities
Prescriptions gels are stronger than conventional toothpaste, so you should check with your dentist to get the right dosage and frequency. People with PD should generally avoid mouthwashes, as these can increase the risk of choking. A chlorhexidine brush contains the same active ingredient as a mouthwash, but allows you to apply the chemical to your teeth.
Making dental visits easier
It’s a good idea to plan dental appointments for the start of the day, to avoid long waiting times. Doctors also recommend that people with PD take medication 60 to 90 minutes before a dental appointment, like those set up through http://www.centennialdentalcenter.com. This allows you to take advantage of the drug’s peak response period, and may help you cope better with the treatment. Over time, shorter, more frequent visits may become necessary, if your symptoms become more severe.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition that affects the lives of more than a million Americans. Many people with PD overlook the effect the disease has on dental health, but it’s important to work with your dentist to protect your teeth and gums.