If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Dental implant technology has advanced at such an astounding rate in recent years that you can now walk into a dentist's office with a problem tooth and out the same day with a new one. Unfortunately, not all dental situations allow for this possibility.
For example, you might be considering an implant many years after losing a tooth. But there's a potential problem: there might not be enough supporting bone. While an implant might still be possible, inadequate bone complicates the matter.
Because implants are essentially tooth root replacements, they require a certain amount of bone for stability and the best attractive outcome. As a general rule, implants need to be surrounded by at least 1.5-2.0 millimeters of healthy bone to support an implant. But you might not have enough if your tooth has been missing for awhile, regardless if you have or haven't worn dentures or other restorations.
That's because bone has a life cycle in which older cells die and newer ones form to take their place. As we chew or bite, the force generated travels up through the teeth to the bone to stimulate this new growth. Without a tooth the bone doesn't receive this stimulus, which can slow the growth rate. Over time the affected bone can lose its volume and density.
If we find you've experienced loss to the point your bone won't support an implant, that doesn't automatically mean this popular restoration is out of the picture. But it will require us first performing a procedure known as augmentation or bone grafting to help rejuvenate some of the lost bone.
With grafting, we place processed bone grafting material in the jaw through a minor surgical procedure to form a scaffold for new bone to grow upon. After several months this can result in several millimeters of new growth maintaining the width of the underlying bone, which in turn may be able to support an implant.
Bone grafting is quite common, often performed at the same time as tooth extraction if there's going to be a time lag before installing an implant. Even if performed later, though, it can successfully rejuvenate lost bone and make it possible for you to take advantage of durable, life-like implants.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants after Previous Tooth Loss.”
In an ideal situation, you would transition from a missing tooth to a permanent replacement with as little time in between as possible. Unfortunately, reality can intrude on the best of intentions.
For example, dental implants are one of the best ways to regain the form and function of a lost tooth. They are, however, initially expensive, especially if you’re replacing multiple teeth. Your financial ability may force you to wait — which means you need a solution now, if only temporarily.
Fortunately, a removable partial denture (RPD) could be the temporary solution you’re looking for. There are various kinds and all quite affordable; one of the more versatile is a flexible version made of a form of nylon. Due to its thermoplasticity, the nylon is quite pliable when heated and can be easily molded into a denture base with attaching prosthetic teeth. They’re comfortable to wear and attach to the remaining teeth at the gum line with flexible, finger-like clasps.
Â RPDs are designed as a transitional replacement between tooth loss and a permanent restoration such as implants, bridges or permanent dentures. Their light weight, comfort and affordability also make them tempting to consider as a permanent replacement.
They do, however, have some drawbacks that make them less desirable for long-term use. They weren’t designed for relining or repair, so such efforts can be difficult. The clasp holding them in place may also trap food and bacteria that increase the risk of dental disease to the gums and remaining teeth. You can minimize some of these weaknesses by properly cleaning and maintaining the RPD, and taking them out at night to inhibit the growth of bacteria while you sleep.
Mainly, though, you should primarily consider a RPD as a temporary bridge between lost teeth and a permanent restoration. To that end, we’ll work with you to develop a treatment and finance plan that will help you achieve a more permanent and satisfying restoration.
If you would like more information on teeth replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “GERD and Oral Health.”
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