There are an estimated 81,000 to 110,000 people living with Parkinson's disease in Australia. But living is the key word here. Life goes on, with all the subsequent needs for healthcare that might not necessarily be related to the condition. Dental care has the potential to be problematic when someone is affected by Parkinson's disease, from self-care at home, to visits to the dentist. If you or a loved one is living with Parkinson's disease, what extra considerations might be needed when visiting the dentist?
Inform the Dentist
Any extra considerations will vary considerably from patient to patient, largely depending on the severity of someone's Parkinson's disease. Perhaps the most pressing concern is the frequency and intensity of a person's Parkinson's-related tremors, which can pose problems during the actual dental examination. Of course, the easiest way to address this issue is to inform the dentist of the condition, allowing them an extra degree of warning.
This could allow them to be prudent when using certain implements, such as a sharp-pointed plaque scraper, or when administering an injection. These and many other dental tools have the ability to cause injury if tremors were to occur when such tools were in the patient's mouth. Knowing about the condition allows the dentist to substitute certain tools, or to keep the usage of sharp tools to an absolute minimum, always being ready to pull back if tremors were to begin.
While sporadic tremors might not pose a problem at all, frequent tremors can add a degree of difficulty to the examination. For patients who are on medication to control their tremors, it can be prudent to schedule a dental appointment shortly after they're due to take this medication, allowing it to be at its most effective. A mild sedative can also be beneficial if the dentist deems it necessary. Patients might also want to bring a travel pillow that wraps around the back of their neck, giving some cushioning and light restraint which can minimise tremors. Visiting the dentist is a crucial part of maintaining dental health, but the majority of the work is done at home by ensuring a high standard of oral hygiene.
When tremors and their subsequent impact on motor function make dental self-care more difficult, it can be helpful to upgrade your arsenal. Opt for an electric toothbrush which requires less specific direction when in the mouth, and replaces traditional flossing with a water flosser that directs a jet of water between the gaps in your teeth to dislodge debris, which again requires less manual effort.
It's not as though Parkinson's disease should result in a decline in oral hygiene, but it means that a more specialised approach is required.