Stroke, also known as cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is the result of an interruption of oxygen carrying blood to the brain. In most cases, the cause is a blockage or blood clot affecting a cerebral blood vessel. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease and cancer. In fact, one in 20 people over the age of 65 have suffered from stroke.
The most serious outcome after a stroke is death, which occurs in one-third to one-half of the cases within a month following the event. You may recall that President Roosevelt died from a stroke back in 1945. If a stroke victim survives, there is only a 10 percent chance that they will not suffer any impairment. Unfortunately, most stroke victims suffer some complications. The extent of their impediment depends both on the amount and location of the brain that is damaged.
If the right side of the brain is damaged, there will be paralysis of the left side of the body; thought, memory and spatial relations will be impaired, and there will be difficulty performing tasks, including brushing teeth. If the left side of the brain is damaged, the right side will show signs of paralysis; there will be speech, language, and memory problems, as well as anxiety and difficulty following directions.
Regardless of what side of the brain is affected, stroke survivors are likely to have a diminished quality of life. This is compounded by the fact that limited dexterity almost always leads to poor oral hygiene.
A decrease in the effectiveness of cleaning your teeth can lead to increased cavities, gingivitis and more severe forms of gum disease, unsightly stained and tartar-covered teeth, as well as bad breath. If left untreated, disease of the teeth and gums can make eating painful. This is especially sad for more severe stroke victims because it may rob them of one of the few simple pleasures they have left -- enjoying a good meal.
People who have had a stroke should see their dentist at least twice a year for a regular exam and cleaning, and should consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. Interplak®, Braun by Oral B®, Sonicare® and The Rota-dent® are well-known brands. Those who have suffered from a stroke should always use a fluoride-containing toothpaste when brushing their teeth. The use of a fluoride-containing mouthwash is advisable for those who have seen an increase in cavities after their stroke, and a phenol-containing mouthwash such as Listerine® may be useful for those with gingivitis.
The use of floss is also important, but may be impossible for the stroke victim. If the stroke victim has great difficulty or is unable to clean their teeth, a family member, close friend or other caregiver should help them use their toothbrush, floss and other oral hygiene aids.
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