When you look at someone’s face, where is your dominant focus? The mouth and teeth? The eyes? I expect it’s one or the other.
With a Parkinson’s diagnosis we know we need to prevent falls and deal with many other symptoms, but we may overlook our vision health and dental health. However, those two areas are extremely important to the person with Parkinson’s also.
Two different neurologists told us that Parkinson’s does not affect these areas, while we really felt that it did. Recently my research* has shown that we were indeed correct! We knew it all along, and we’re so glad the medical profession has caught up to us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
If we thought our dental health was important before Parkinson’s, it is now doubly important. The risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease are tripled when complicated by PD. Some reasons for this are:
- Difficulty with small motor functions which translates to slower movement causing our spouse to brush less effectively (we use an electric toothbrush)
- Apathy or depression which leads our spouse to brush less often (we might be tempted to nag)
- Dry mouth which can be a side effect of the medications, a symptom of the disease, or just a natural progression of aging. There are some good mouthwash products that help. We use “xylimelts” – mint discs that really helps! There can be increased jaw discomfort over the progression of Parkinson’s. This is due to rigidity, tremors, or dyskinesia. Those three things, singly or together, may make dental health even more difficult, and that can make time in the dentist chair uncomfortable or painful. Many PD patients also experience grinding of their teeth, both in the daytime and while sleeping. A mouth guard is recommended for this, but it wasn’t very successful for us.
- Drooling is sometimes associated with PD, and it can cause irritation or infection in the corners of the mouth. One way to prevent this is to rinse the mouth with water or mouthwash often, but especially after each meal.
Regular visits to the dentist are crucial for PD patients, and twice a year is recommended.
Our eyes are equally important, as we need to see to navigate our surroundings and to remain independent. Here are some common issues after a PD diagnosis:
- Dry eyes are annoying and painful, occurring mostly due to lack of blinking. This can also be caused by certain medications. There are several brands of artificial tears available that can help this condition.
- Blurry vision is sometimes a result of PD, as can be double vision. These can be quite disturbing and bothersome. An unusual side effect of the lack of dopamine in the brain is difficulty with color vision. (Since I am not a medical professional, I won’t attempt to explain the reason for this. Please research it yourself if you are interested in the “why”.) This can lead to other difficulties visually, such as problems with depth perception, difficulty perceiving overlapping objects, detecting motion and direction, and even recognizing faces, facial expressions, and emotion.
- Hallucinations are another disturbing effect of Parkinson’s. In our experience it is difficult to tell whether they are really hallucinations or just the eyes playing tricks. Stay tuned for an additional post on this topic.
The bottom line is that a visit to our favorite optometrist or ophthalmologist is crucial at the onset of Parkinson’s with regular follow up visits.
It might seem as if the neurologist is the only doctor necessary for the Parkinson’s patient, but that is far from the truth. Regular check-ups by dental and eye care professionals are doubly important for our spouse on this Parkinson’s journey.
The good news is that help is available for these problems. We are all in this together, to help and encourage each other as caregivers to our spouse or family member. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.
*Reference: Every Victory Counts by Dr. Monique Giroux and Sierra Farris