Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive motor neutron disease that affects most parts of a person’s body. As a result, many people living with ALS may need assistance with their oral hygiene.
Oral Health Challenges Associated with ALS
So, how does ALS affect the gums and other parts of the mouth? Since ALS affects a person’s fine motor skills, it can make it difficult for people to maintain their oral hygiene, specifically when it comes to brushing and flossing their teeth. In addition to muscle weakness and reduced dexterity, the disease can also affect the function of a person’s mouth, tongue and lips.
ALS has also been known to cause a decrease in the production of saliva, which is essential in combating oral disease, neutralizing acid, protecting the enamel and preventing cavities and tooth decay. A lack of saliva can also cause dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and oral diseases.
Another major challenge for those living with ALS, and a growing concern for their caregivers, is how ALS can affect a person’s ability to swallow properly. These difficulties, known as dysphagia, reduces a person’s ability to swallow food and drink partially or completely.
Strategies for Better Oral Health in ALS Patients
Together with dental professionals, people living with ALS can improve their oral health and overall health. Here are some tips to consider:
- Assistance with oral hygiene. When it comes to dental care for ALS patients, caregivers may need to assist patients with oral hygiene. For progressive stages of ALS, patients may need physical and emotional support in maintaining good oral health routines.
- Adaptations to dental tools and aids: Commonly used dental tools and equipment for proper oral hygiene can be difficult for ALS patients to use. Soft-bristled electric toothbrushes, dental wipes, motion-activated toothpaste dispensers, floss holders, tongue scrapers, dry mouth oral rinse, oral suction devices, and mouth swabs can help promote good oral health.
- Management of dry mouth: Dry mouth is a symptom of ALS and causes the mouth to reduce saliva production. While excessive saliva can be fatal for ALS patients, too little can cause breathing and swallowing difficulty. There are products that can act as a saliva substitute to help keep the mouth moist.
- Regular dental visits and care: Regular dental visits are vital to maintain good oral health, especially for those living with a progressive disease such as ALS. Each stage of the disease presents various oral health challenges and reiterates the importance of visiting the dentist every six months. Monitoring the changes within the oral cavity can help keep the patient’s medical team informed of any progression of the disease.
What Role Do Dentists Play in Supporting ALS Patients?
Dental professionals have a responsibility to understand the progression of the disease. As symptoms have an everlasting effect on the teeth, gums, and mouth, dental teams should know the signs and proper oral care for those with any stage of ALS.
With the knowledge of ALS and its effect on a person’s health, dental offices can offer equipment and appliances that are designed with accessibility in mind so that patients can feel more comfortable. Other adaptations dental professionals can make include allowing wheelchair-bound patients to remain in their chair during treatments and having proper dental equipment for ALS symptom patients.
The medical community needs to be more open, accommodating, and willing to collaborate with patients living with ALS as well as their caregivers. Dental teams can play a key role in monitoring and discovering changes within the oral health of the patient which can lead to overall health changes.
1. How do people with ALS brush their teeth?
With the use of electric and/or suction toothbrushes, hands-free toothpaste dispensers, or dental wipes, ALS patients can maintain a regular dental routine.
2. What does ALS do to the mouth?
As a motor neuron disease, ALS causes loss of muscle control in the mouth and throat over time. The weakening of these muscles causes difficulty swallowing and chewing in addition to other serious deficits.
3. Does ALS cause dental problems?
Yes, ALS can adversely affect the health of the teeth, gums and mouth. Teeth can be damaged or broken, dental devices can be dislodged and tongue bleeding can occur.
4. Does ALS increase saliva?
Yes, excessive saliva is a major concern for those living with ALS. An increase in secretion can lead to choking as aspiration is part of the disease.
5. Does ALS affect your teeth?
Yes, as with all diseases and medical conditions teeth can be at risk for decay, damage and loss.
ALS Patients Can Seek Professional Dental Care at Princeview Dental
The team at Princeview Dental Group understands the importance of good oral hygiene, especially for those dealing with ALS. We can help design the best adaptable routines that ensure you obtain and retain proper oral health. Our office is fully accessible at Princeview Dental and can help with the challenges this disease presents. Call us today at (416) 231-4562 for a consultation with our team at Princeview Dental Group.