Stroke victims face significant physical challenges. For example, loss of dexterity can make it difficult for them to effectively clean their teeth. They also might not be able to feel food remaining in their mouth after meals. Both factors can lead to increased gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth decay, halitosis, and poorly fitting dentures.
When stroke victims visit the dentist, speech impediments may leave them unable to communicate these issues clearly, compromising care. Addressing these difficulties, second-year dental therapy and hygiene students at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom are developing a communication aid.
Using illustrations, emoticons, and multiple choice, the aid lets patients accurately describe the location and intensity of any pain they’re feeling. They also can use it to show when it is at its worst, what kind of pain it is (whether it’s sharp or dull, an ache or radiating), how long they have had it, if anything makes it better, and if they have been taking painkillers.
Additionally, the aid helps patients describe their diet and provides advice for improving it. It also provides oral hygiene education. The students developed the aid with the Stroke Association in Plymouth and with Chatterbox, a local stroke survivor support organization, after visits to the association and after seeing patients at the university’s Devonport Dental Education Facility.
“Not only has this project helped our service users to make the most of their visits to the dentist, but by being involved with the process it has helped their confidence,” said Lyn Lewis of Chatterbox.
“Working with the dental therapy and hygiene students has been a super experience for all concerned, not least because something has come out of it which is really useful and which could be used nationwide,” Lewis said. “There are benefits not just for survivors of stroke, but also for others with health problems that make it difficult to communicate.”
“Working with the Stroke Association and Chatterbox, we found that there was a definite need to develop something which would help stroke survivors get a better experience from their visits to the dentist,” said Dr. Cathy Coelho, clinical lecturer at the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.
“While those with stroke do suffer from poorer oral health, with improved communication and support those problems can be addressed. We are immensely proud of the solution the students have come up with, and it would be great if it could be adopted elsewhere.”