Parkinson's disease affects around 1 million Americans, and this debilitating condition negatively affects motor skills, cognitive ability and emotional well-being. However, an area that is often troublesome for sufferers of Parkinson's disease is dental health. The condition can indirectly lead to an increase in tooth decay, periodontal disease and other problems. The good news is that patients and caregivers can help make dental care a less stressful, more positive experience by taking time to adapt to new behaviors and the use of other specific strategies. Below are several ways that Parkinson's disease patients can experience improved dental health:
Utilize technology in daily dental care routine
If you or a loved one is affected by Parkinson's disease, you can mitigate the problems with tremors and other physical limitations by using dental technology to your advantage. For example, the use of electric toothbrushes can be highly effective. These brushes are widely available and inexpensive, and they reduce the patient's dependency upon their fine motor skills to keep their teeth adequately brushed. Another tool that is helpful for Parkinson's disease sufferers is oral irrigators. These devices can serve as satisfactory substitutes for dental flossing, which may be all-but-impossible for some individuals with the condition.
Select a dentist who understands Parkinson's disease
Because motor problems can make sitting still difficult for some Parkinson's disease patients, it is vital that these individuals choose to receive dental care from a supportive dentist who understands their special needs. For older patients with Parkinson's disease, a geriatric specialist may be ideal, so be sure to search for dentists who have received training in working with the elderly. In addition, the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA) can be a great resource for individuals who have difficulty finding a dentist with experience treating Parkinson's disease patients.
Make the dental care experience pleasant
When visiting the dentist, patients with Parkinson's disease can make the appointment much more pleasant by planning ahead. Here are few suggestions that can help:
Schedule appointments for low-traffic time slots - In many dental clinics, the slowest time of day is early in the morning, and this is a good time for Parkinson's disease patients to come to the office. The less hectic the pace in the office, the less anxious the patient will feel, and the more likely the experience will be genuinely positive.
Take medications shortly before arriving - For patients who take medications such as carbidopa/levodopa, it is ideal to take their prescriptions as close as possible before the appointment. This will help make the symptoms less-prominent during the actual time in the chair.
Practice progressive relaxation techniques - Another way to make the visit to the dentist less stressful is by learning and using progressive relaxation. Progressive relaxation involves using deep breathing combined with mental imagery of relaxing specific body parts, one at a time. It is an easy, effective technique, and it works well to lower anxiety. For help in learning progressive relaxation, patients can consult with mental health professionals or their physician.
Supplement daily brushing with other preventative measures
Mouthwashes are effective for preventing tooth decay and other conditions when used properly by Parkinson's disease patients. Fluoride gels and non-alcohol mouthwash, such as chlorhexidine, can keep teeth healthier, especially for patients who have substantial trouble with their daily hygiene regimen. However, it is critical to keep the dentist in the loop regarding these treatment options, as many of the most effective supplemental measures require a prescription. In addition, if the patient has difficulty with swallowing, it is also important for the dentist to know about this ahead of time. The improper use of an oral agent could result in choking or even potentially deadly conditions such as aspiration pneumonia.