Investigating Oral Health Disparities in Individuals with Neurological Disorders

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Senior Honors Projects

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Lafen, Julia A
Oral Health; Neurological Disorders; Parkinson's Disease; Acquired Brain Injury; Oral Health; Neurological Disorders; Parkinson's Disease; Acquired Brain Injury
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Maintaining personal oral health requires coordinated physical movements and particular fine motor skills, which may be lacking in individuals with neurological disorders (1). Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) and acquired brain injury (ABI), are diseases of the nervous system that impact functioning of the spine, brain, nerves, and muscles (1, 2). Globally, over 1 billion people are affected by neurological disorders and this number is projected to increase in the future (2,3). As a result of impairments in cognitive function and motor movement, many individuals with neurological disorders experience trouble with the fine motor skills, hand-eye-coordination activities, swallowing and chewing that can directly compromise oral health (2, 3, 4). This research project focuses on oral health in individuals with PD and ABI. Although individuals with neurological disorders appear to be at a greater risk of developing oral health problems than the general population, limited research has been performed in this population to date. In this study, 13 participants (10 PD and 3 ABI) answered an 11-item oral health questionnaire focused on three topics: fine motor skills, existing medical conditions and personal oral hygiene. Participants were primarily male (n=10, 76.9%) and most (n=11, 84.6%) of the participants were 58 years or older. All the participants met the recommendation of brushing teeth 2 times per day. All of those with ABI flossed 5 or more times per week. In those with PD, 7 out of 10 participants flossed five or more times per week. Only one person with ABI experienced bleeding gums whereas 2 people with PD experienced bleeding gums. Overall, 10 out of the 13 participants visited a dentist on an annual basis (7 with PD and 3 with ABI). When asked about previous dental work, 2 of those with ABI had dentures, implants crowns or fillings whereas 7 of those with PD answered yes to having dentures, implants, crowns or fillings. A majority (n=8) of the participants reported that they were unsure if they drank fluoridated water. When asked about dry mouth, 4 out of 10 of those with PD reported yes to experiencing dry mouth, and 1 out of 3 of those with ABI reported yes to having dry mouth. This study explored the relationship between oral health and neurological disorders. While a majority of participants in this study reported daily oral hygiene practices, there are areas for improvement such as education regarding the importance of drinking