A personal perspective of Parkinson's disease

Imagine one day not being able to swing your arms while walking, or experiencing tremors in your hands while at rest. Imagine having difficulty performing clinical skills that you've done for years.

by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH
amrdh@aol.com

Imagine one day not being able to swing your arms while walking, or experiencing tremors in your hands while at rest. Imagine having difficulty performing clinical skills that you’ve done for years. Carla Gantz experienced this in February 2006 when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a degenerative disorder associated with the loss of brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine. There is no cure.

From her experiences and research, she has developed a program entitled “What Do You Know About the ‘Movers and Shakers’ in Your Chair?” to educate dental professionals about Parkinson’s disease and its effects. Celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have brought Parkinson’s awareness to the forefront. However, dental professionals are often still in the dark about the signs, symptoms, and treatments associated with the disease. It has been estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 new cases of PD are diagnosed each year in the United States, bringing the affected population to over one million.

Carla’s goal with the program is to develop a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease among dental professionals. Participants will leave the program able to:

  • Define Parkinson’s disease
  • Recognize 10 early warning signs of the disease and the “cardinal” signs
  • List medications used for control of motor symptoms
  • Discuss products for maintaining good oral hygiene

Carla believes that hygienists should participate in this course to clear up any misunderstandings they may have regarding the disease. In a national survey of 1,007 men and women ages 18 and older conducted by the National Parkinson Foundation, it was shown that Americans have a number of misconceptions about the disorder.

During the medical history review, hygienists may learn about medications they may be unfamiliar with that are used for treating Parkinson’s. Thus, education about the treatments and effects of Parkinson’s is important to all hygienists. All members of the team would benefit from attending this program since many people do not understand that PD can progress slowly and patients can have a good quality of life.

Early in her PD journey, doctors could not diagnose exactly what was causing Carla’s symptoms. Initially they thought it was essential tremors, a chronic condition that is characterized by involuntary, rhythmic tremors of the body, most often in the hands and arms during writing or eating. At the time, she did not understand that PD tremors are just the opposite — they are during rest, and she was experiencing the tremors at rest rather than during movement.

Thinking she was experiencing the essential tremors, Carla’s physician treated her with blood pressure medications, which is the usual course of treatment. This didn’t help the tremors; it only made her feel lifeless. After about two weeks of not feeling well, her physician ordered an MRI that proved negative. After discussions with her doctor, Carla was advised to see a movement disorder specialist at Vanderbilt. It was there that she received her diagnosis of PD. Reflecting back on her symptoms and knowing what she knows now, she can recognize the early development of PD symptoms, including small, cramped handwriting (micrographia).

Carla started her career in dentistry as a dental assistant, and that is where she discovered her passion for the profession. She is a graduate of the Western Kentucky University dental hygiene program and is a self proclaimed CE junkie. She believes every patient deserves the latest information about oral health. After attending Career Fusion several years ago, she was inspired to present CE programs herself. She is currently a a dental office manager, a dental hygiene key opinion leader, 2011 xylitol contest winner, writer, and speaker. She has presented several programs to Parkinson’s disease support groups.

Carla is a member of ADHA and is concerned that hygienists are not regarded as true professionals. She is enjoying life to the fullest while practicing her faith and enjoying her husband and family.

Some famous people who had Parkinson’s include cyclist Davis Phinney, Pope John Paul II, evangelist Billy Graham, playwright Eugene O’Neill, former United States Attorney General Janet Reno, and Adolf Hitler. With knowledge and understanding of the signs, symptoms, and treatments, Carla is spreading the word to the dental profession regarding the effects of this degenerative disease, and bringing the voice of hope to those afflicted.

For more information on Carla’s program or Parkinson’s, contact Dook@scrtc.com.

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. Ann-Marie is currently a business/clinical coach for Jameson Management, Inc., a comprehensive coaching firm, and also presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. She is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at amrdh@aol.com or ann-marie@jamesonmanagement.com.


This month’s IneedCE featured course is Dentinal Hypersensitivity – A Review. RDH Magazine readers will receive a 47% discount when they mention code DHYP. The regular course fee is $59, and with the discount it is $31.27. Dentinal hypersensitivity is characterized by short, sharp pain that’s in response to stimuli. Dentinal hypersensitivity, more commonly seen in adults ages 20 to 40, has several etiological factors. Gingival recession and enamel loss both contribute to the prevalence of this condition, resulting in the exposure of dentin. Dentinal hypersensitivity is believed to occur due to the movement of fluid within the dentinal tubules occurring in response to thermal, chemical, tactile, and evaporative stimuli, in accordance with Brännström’s hydrodynamic theory. Treatment options include in-office procedures and self-applied products that are aimed at either occluding the dentinal tubules or preventing neural transmission and thereby blocking the pain response.

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