Multiple Sclerosis Dental Implants
While going to the dentist is not at the top of everyone’s list of favorite things to do, for some it is more challenging than others. Those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) may have a particularly difficult time getting and staying comfortable in a dentist’s chair. This is because MS is characterized by loss of coordination, decreased muscle control, muscle spasms, and increased physical discomfort and fatigue. Due to the damage that MS does to the myelin sheath that protects one’s nerve cells in the central nervous system, these messenger pathways become compromised over time and impulses from the brain simply do not arrive reliably at their intended destination. This leads to the problems with balance, coordination, strength and stamina that tend to manifest in those living with Multiple Sclerosis. Because MS is a progressive degenerative disease, it often results over time in partial or full paralysis, which introduces a whole host of challenges to oral as well as overall health.
Oral Health Challenges Associated with Multiple Sclerosis
Increasing lack of muscle control and coordination, even in the early stages of MS, can present difficulties in terms of maintaining good baseline oral health. Challenges brushing and flossing can lead to cavities, gum disease, abscesses, and even tooth loss. Patients might also experience difficulty controlling their tongue, decreased production of saliva, and facial pain due to nerve damage, all of which can compound oral health challenges in a myriad of ways.
In-Office Challenges Associated with Multiple Sclerosis
Even as oral health begins to decline in those living with MS, undergoing dental examinations and treatments can become more difficult. Best practices for accommodating those with MS in dental visits include shorter visits, frequent breaks, and positioning the patient at a 45-degree angle so that their airway is not obstructed. While many think of muscle loss in terms of one’s ability to control their arms and legs, for example, muscles also control many of our body’s involuntary functions such as breathing and swallowing; those living with severe MS find that these functions may become impacted along with larger bodily movement issues.
Because facial muscles may also be impacted, patients may struggle to maintain their mouths open or otherwise positioned for certain procedures. It may be necessary to use assistive devices in order to facilitate certain procedures, and breaks should be carefully planned in advance to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Dentures for Those Living with Multiple Sclerosis
The oral health challenges that characterize MS can eventually lead to tooth loss and a need to replace those teeth with either dentures or implants. In seeking options for tooth replacement, dentures may seem like an option worth exploring. Cost effective, relatively easy and fast to make, and possible without surgical intervention, conventional dentures can indeed seem appealing. Dentures can present particular challenges for those living with Multiple Sclerosis, however. Decreased muscle control, increased dry mouth, and tingling and numbness from nerve damage can all work together to create inhospitable conditions for conventional dentures.
While shifting dentures are inconvenient for anyone, they can be downright dangerous for those who don’t have the rapid reflexes and muscle control to put them back into place quickly. Furthermore, the need to remove conventional dentures at night for cleaning can also create breathing issues as airways might be more prone to closing involuntarily if there are no teeth to keep the jaw from sliding back while one sleeps. For these reasons, conventional dentures are not a good choice for those living with MS and should be avoided if possible.
Dental Implants: A Better Choice
Although the upfront time and expense is indeed greater to create dental implants, the benefits of this tooth replacement technology far outweigh any disadvantages. While this is true for almost anyone seeking to replace teeth, it is particularly true for those living with MS.
First of all, dental implants are designed to mimic natural teeth and, as such, the base element of the dental implant is embedded into the jawbone where it is allowed to merge or integrate with the hard tissues of the jaw. Once the hard and soft tissues have been allowed time to heal, a connecting piece called and abutment can then be attached, to which individual prosthetic crowns or whole arches of dentures can then be attached. This interconnected three-piece structure rooted in the jaw means that dental implants and the dental appliances they can support are held firmly in place, with no shifting or moving.
Second, dental implants can be made to be fixed or permanent, meaning that they do not have to be removed at night for cleaning. The permanence of this fixture thereby creates less work in terms of maintenance and it also provides a greater degree of safety for someone with less muscle control in their airway, as the structure of the prosthetic teeth maintain a more stable jaw position during sleep. This in turn leads to less potential breathing issues.
Third, and finally, dental implants are built to be more durable than conventional dentures. The fixtures themselves often last a lifetime, and while the prosthetics or dentures they support may require some repair over time, they typically require less upkeep than conventional dentures, which necessitate more frequent dental visits for examinations and repairs.
Planning for Dental Implants
The three-part structure of dental implants does indeed make them strong and reliable – not to mention attractive and easy to care for - but creating that structure takes time and more invasive procedures that creating conventional dentures does. For that reason, careful planning all steps of the dental implant installation is very important. If you think that dental implants might be the right choice for you, be sure to work with a dentist that is willing and able to make the sorts of accommodations that will be required to keep you comfortable and at ease during the whole process. You should be an active participant in all stages of the planning process and have information about what to expect at every stage. All told, the process of creating dental implants may take six to nine months, but with careful planning, the end result will be safe and functional teeth that will improve your oral health as well as your quality of life.