Polio or infantile paralysis is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the spinal cord’s grey matter and damage to the motor neurons (the nerves controlling the muscles of movement). The disease can cause paralysis and even death. In Australia, between the 1930s and 1960s, 40,000 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis were recorded. However, many more people (up to 4 million) were either not diagnosed or did not experience the paralytic symptoms of the infection. Up to 40% of previously stable survivors of polio are now experiencing the late effects of polio, a condition known as Post-Polio Syndrome, or PPS.
You can learn about the history of polio in Australia here.
The symptoms of PPS include:
- fatigue (from minimal physical activity)
- decreased strength and endurance
- muscle and joint pain
- spasms and twitching
- struggling to stay alert and concentrate
- difficulties speaking and swallowing, and
- cold/heat intolerance.
Health practitioners are realising that they need to become adept at recognising the symptoms of PPS and helping people to manage them in their daily lives.
Polio And Oral Health
There may be no direct connection between polio and a patient’s oral health, but symptoms of the disease may affect a patient’s ability to eat and one’s response to dental anaesthesia and treatments. For example, muscle weakness and fatigue can affect one’s ability to clean the teeth thoroughly. Problems with swallowing can influence an individual’s food choices, often causing them to choose foods that increase the likelihood of developing dental disease.
The dental care of people with PPS often requires that some modifications be made during the appointment, and these are modifications that our dental team are happy to make. The comfort and well-being of patients is our focus, so Polio Survivors should never be hesitant in explaining their condition and asking for their individual needs to be met.
Modifications may include:
- Scheduling appointments early in the day
- Agreeing upon hand signals that allow clear communication during the appointment
- Taking breaks during the appointment to minimise fatigue
- Placing the dental chair in a more upright position than usual, to make it easie to breathe and swallow
- Provision of additional support for the neck or back
- Provision of blankets or cooling to counter temperature intolerances
- Providing anything else that improves the comfort and confidence of the patient during the appointment
It is important that the dental team be aware of the unique responses Polio Survivors may have to local anaesthetics. They may need twice the typical dose, and recovery can take twice as long. Any numbness affecting the throat or tongue may have an impact on breathing and swallowing; the dental team will need to be vigilant about providing good suction and provide opportunities “to have a breather.” The presence of a friend or family member at the appointment will provide support and assistance both during and after the appointment.
Please do not allow PPS to stop you from receiving the dental care you need. Make contact with your dental team, communicate your needs with them and be sure that you have scheduled some time and support after your appointment for recovery.
If your health practitioners need more information about PPS, they can find it here:
You may also be interested to read about daily dental care for polio survivors.