In the past, Mary Ann would do almost anything to avoid going to the dentist.  Dr. Ron when we were in Oklahoma City and Dr. Bob here have had a gentleness that won her over.  She goes four times a year now, without balking.

Four times a year may seem more often than necessary.  During the years we had dental insurance, it only paid for two of the four times each year.  Why four?  Two reasons: 1. lack of manual dexterity; 2. lack of adequate caregiving.  This is among the many things of which I am not proud.  I just can’t bring myself to do the mouth care for Mary Ann that she cannot do herself.  I have no excuse.  I do a reasonable job of a number of other things, but not that.  Going to the Dental Hygienist four times a year helps compensate for the lack of good care at home.

As is so often the case, medication that does much good in one area of health care can create problems in another area.  The combination of Plavix and Aspirin helps protect against another stroke as bits of plaque can break loose from the lesion on the wall of one of Mary Ann’s carotid arteries.  That combination of meds thins her blood to the extent that by the time the Dental Hygienist is done, there is much bleeding.

After each cleaning of her teeth, we put a Chux (absorbent pad lined with plastic) on her pillow so that the blood from her gums will not stain the bedding.  We learned to do that the hard way, as is so with most of the things we have learned over the years.

There was a point at which we were looking at multple thousands of dollars in potential work on her teeth.  Dr. Bob has managed to keep her mouth in pretty good shape without doing major work.  The prospect of many hours in the dentist chair with the vacillations between stiffness and involuntary movements did not make major dental work an acceptable option.  There were a couple of extractions along the line.  Surprisingly, Mary Ann found the extractions easier than having crowns done.  She was surprised at how fast she was in and out of the chair when the extractions were done.  She had no problems associated with those procedures.

Actually, the dental issues that come with Parkinson’s are seldom mentioned.  We have tried a number of electric toothbrushes.  Mary Ann has a very small mouth providing little room for normal sized brushes.  We have often gotten children’s toothbrushes.  Even the smallest head for an electric brush does not seem to work for her. The manual dexterity needed for brushing teeth is just not there.

Along with many other diseases, it is often problems that are not directly caused by the disease process itself that come to be the most troubling as time goes by.  They are things that are not symptoms of the disease but rather consequences of its long time presence.  As an example, I am watching the skin on the underside of Mary Ann’s forearms.  She spends most of her days in the transfer chair, with her arms resting on the arms of the chair.  I am watching to be sure that the skin under her arms does not begin to break down.  The impact on her dexterity and spatial judgment affects the ease of eating and drinking, making her vulnerable to weight loss and dehydration.  Our Cardiologist feels that the heart issues were a result of the intense dyskinetic movements that are a side effect of the primary Parkinson’s Medication after many years of taking it.

When a person becomes a Caregiver, it is not enough to listen to and read about the disease itself and its symptoms.  It is interacting with others, in support groups, online communities, talking with other Caregivers, reading what has been written by people who have either had the disease or cared for someone with the disease that provides the full story.

I had the advantage of being in a profession that took me into hospital rooms often many times a week. Folks made a point of sharing their medical problems with me as I ministered to them.  As I looked and listened, I learned much of what has helped me tune in to Mary Ann’s problems.  I learned how to talk with and listen to the medical professionals, making it easier to ask the right questions and understand the answers.

For now, I just hope the gums heal and the bleeding subsides.  It is surprising how helpful it is to use a cold substance to ease mouth discomfort after a visit to the dentist.  A chocolate shake from Sonic did the trick this time.  Did you know that Sonic just switched to using real ice cream in their dessert specialties (shakes and sundaes and blasts)?  Does that news leave you also wondering what it was they used to make those treats before they switched to real ice cream?

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