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