Dirty Mouths Lead to Broken Hearts

ScienceDaily (May 5, 2011) — Nurses who care for patients with dementia now have a tailored approach to dental hygiene for their charges, thanks to a pilot study by a team of nurses.
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“Poor oral health can lead to pneumonia and cardiovascular disease as well as periodontal disease,” said Rita A. Jablonski, even though these illnesses are not usually associated with the mouth. According to Jablonski, assistant professor of nursing, Penn State, persons with dementia resist care when they feel threatened. In general, these patients cannot care for themselves and need help.
Jablonski and her team introduced an oral hygiene approach called Managing Oral Hygiene Using Threat Reduction (MOUTh) specifically for dementia patients. Many of their strategies focus on making the patient feel more comfortable before and while care is provided, the researchers report in the current issue of Special Care in Dentistry.
“We have come up with 15 strategies — techniques to help reduce threat perception,” said Jablonski. These strategies include approaching patients at eye level if they are seated, smiling while interacting, pantomiming, and guiding patients to perform their own care by placing a hand over the patient’s hand and leading.
People with dementia are often no longer able to distinguish low or non-threatening situations from highly threatening situations. This happens when the parts of the brain that control threat perception — particularly the fight, flight or freeze responses — begin to deteriorate. The amygdala is the part of the brain that houses the fear response. The hippocampus and cerebral cortex receive and send messages to the amygdala, telling it how to react.

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