10 Valentine's Day Dental Health Care Tips for Parkinson's Disease Sufferers

15/02/2012 16:08 GMT | Updated 15/04/2012 10:12 BST

When Valentine's Day officially ended at midnight, I think it would be fair to say that the people beaming from ear-to-ear were not only doting couples but the owners of restaurants, card stores, florists and chocolatiers as well.

A recent study has predicted British men will splash out £611m on presents while women are expected to spend a more restrained £269m, reported The Daily Mail.

However, on a more serious note. What if you literally couldn't produce your signature smile on cue with confidence anymore?

People with Parkinson's Disease can sometimes be deprived of executing this seemingly simple action of showing appreciation because of ongoing oral and dental health problems which are symptomatic of the debilitating condition.

They will experience difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, drooling, an increase in tooth decay as well as difficulty controlling dentures due to weakened facial muscles.

Current figures show more than six million people worldwide are affected by Parkinson's. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that number could rise to about 50 million by 2015.

PD is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system which means the symptoms affecting movement, muscle control and balance will degenerate over time.

Sufferers lack a sufficient amount of a chemical called dopamine because some nerve cells in their brains have died. The loss of those cells cause the disease's main symptoms - tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement.

But sufferers are also likely to experience depression, dementia, sleep disturbances and incontinence.

The risk of getting PD increases with age with symptoms usually appearing in people above 50. Researchers are yet to discover what causes this incurable condition which has a devastating impact on the quality of a person's life.

Someone diagnosed with PD has the dual challenge of not only trying to adjust to having the disease but also trying to develop their own coping mechanisms. As Parkinson's is idiosyncratic, each person's experiences can be different.

Hence, the reason why there isn't one particular way of tackling the disease and care for someone with it is multifarious involving monitored drug management, therapies and in some cases, surgery.

Even the simplest of tasks such as oral hygiene may require fastidious planning.

Dr James Noble, Neurology Clerkship Director at the University of Columbia, noted that dental health is "often overlooked by both neurologists and people with Parkinson's Disease" and "nearly half of all people with PD have difficulty with their daily oral hygiene regimen."

His comments were echoed by Daiga Heisters, Head of Professional Engagement and Education at Parkinson's UK, who stated: "It can be easy to overlook dental health in people with Parkinson's but it is really important to the overall health of the individual."

So how can somebody who is new to caring for a loved one with Parkinson's spot that they may be experiencing dental problems?

According to Dr Noble, infrequent tooth-brushing, difficulties rinsing and trouble sitting through meals are early signs to look out for.

Below is a list of tips for maintaining dental health care for PD sufferers compiled using research carried out by Parkinson's UK and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

  1. If swallowing is a problem, a speech and language therapist may be able to help. They may prescribe certain exercises for the mouth.
  2. Medication prescribed to treat PD can reduce the flow of saliva to the mouth causing a dry mouth. Regularly sipping water and keeping lips moist with vaseline may help. Smoking should be avoided as it exacerbates the dryness. The use of mouthwashes not prescribed by a dentist or doctor should also be avoided because they may contain alcohol, which can also intensify dryness.
  3. Brushing the teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding sugary snacks and drinks will help reduce tooth decay.
  4. The rigidity and slowness of movement can result in some people experiencing drooling. Swallowing frequently may help to halt saliva pooling in the mouth.
  5. See a dentist regularly. A PD patient can also request home visits.
  6. Taking levodopa - a drug which the body converts into dopamine - at least an hour before a visit "may improve the ability of a sufferer to meet the demands of a dental examination".
  7. Use an electric or battery-operated toothbrush to make brushing easier.
  8. Try "one-handed preventive strategies" allowing a person to use the stronger side of their body.
  9. Sometimes people can become fatigued cleaning their teeth. This can be minimised by carrying out the process in two stages during the day.
  10. Never use toothpaste on dentures as it is too abrasive instead clean them with a nailbrush, soap and water. Follow soaking solution instructions meticulously because leaving dentures for too long in a hot solution can damage the plastic.