The Importance of Oral Care in Parkinson’s Disease

By: Lindsay Arena, MA, CF-SLP

Swallowing dysfunction is frequent in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and is commonly associated with aspiration pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death in PD. Aspiration pneumonia is a bacterial infection in the lungs that occurs when saliva, food, liquid, or regurgitated material enters the lower airway (trachea-lungs).

Reference 1: Aspiration

Poor oral hygiene results in increased harmful bacteria in oropharyngeal secretions. Without a daily oral hygiene routine, those who are experiencing dysphagia with PD may be at a higher risk of developing aspiration pneumonia, due to the increased potential for bacteria to enter the airway.

Therefore, maintaining a daily oral care routine is crucial in reducing your risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Regardless of your dental status (teeth, dentures, no teeth), you should use a toothbrush to brush your teeth/gums and tongue at least 2x/day. This is the most effective way to create the friction required to remove bacteria from your mouth. Flossing, using a water flosser, and/or using alcohol-free mouthwash are other great additions to utilize in your oral care routine. Regular visits to the dentist at least every 6 months is also recommended.

It is important to note that while oral hygiene is one preventable risk factor in developing aspiration pneumonia, there are a number of other risk factors. Other risk factors associated with the development of aspiration pneumonia include: dependency upon others for feeding, reduced overall physical health, and mental health.

Resources

Parkinson’s Foundation

Tips for Preventing Dental Problems

Parkinson’s Disease

Dental Health In Parkinson’s Disease

American Parkinson Disease Association

Oral Health & Parkinson’s Disease

If you have questions or concerns regarding your oral hygiene, reach out to your local Speech-Language Pathologist or physician.

References

  • Chang, Y., Yang, C., Hu, K., Chao, A., Chang, Y., Hsieh, K., … Lim, S. (2016). Risk factors for pneumonia among patients with Parkinson’s disease: a Taiwan nationwide population based study. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment 2016; 12: 1037-1046. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S99365
  • Langmore, S., Terpenning, M., Schork, A., Chen, Y., Murray, J., Lopatin, D., & Loesche, W. (1998). Predictors of aspiration pneumonia: How important is dysphagia? Dysphagia 13(2): 69. doi:10.1007/PL00009559
  • Martinez-Ramirez, D., Almeida, L., Giugni, J., Ahmed, B., Higuchi, M., Little, C., … Okun, M. (2015). Rate of aspiration pneumonia in hospitalized Parkinson’s disease patients: a cross-sectional study. BMC Neurology 15:104. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12883-015-0362-9
  • Yoon, M. & Steele, C. (2007). The oral care imperative: The link between oral hygiene and aspiration pneumonia. Topic in Geriatric Rehabilitation (23) 3, pp. 280-288. doi: 10.1097/01.TGR.0000284771.24711.6a

About the Author

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Heather Simpson, OTR/L

Heather Simpson graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science with a minor in Early Education from the University of Florida in 2007. Following…

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