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.”
Vitamins play a key role in your body’s health, including your teeth and gums. A vitamin-deficient diet is an invitation to all sorts of disease.
But what are vitamins? Although they differ individually in what effect they have on the body, they’re all organic compounds found in foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Each in a different way helps with bodily processes.
Vitamin C, for example, helps the body repair tissue. Without it, tissue breaks down easier, as British sailors discovered centuries ago on long sea voyages. Deprived of vitamin C in their diets they soon encountered health issues like bleeding gums. Eating limes — chock full of vitamin C—helped to clear up such problems (and also why they were called “limeys”).
Scientists have discovered thirteen vitamins, four of which—A, D, E and K—are soluble (dissolvable) in fat; the body stores these in the liver and fat tissue where they issue out into the body slowly. The rest—C and eight types of B vitamin—are soluble in water. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, these are used quickly and any remaining are excreted from the body.
When it comes to teeth, gums and the mouth, a rich assortment of vitamins helps maintain good oral health. For the teeth especially, vitamin D plays a critical role—it helps the body absorb the mineral calcium necessary for strong bones and teeth. You’ll find this vitamin plentiful in dairy products, but also fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
While vitamins occur naturally in foods, they can be manufactured in the form of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, the world of dietary supplements is a murky one, ungoverned by the restrictions and clinical trials that drugs undergo before they go to market. And, it’s big business: vitamin supplements are promoted as “insurance” for good health.
But while some people have conditions that may require a vitamin supplement, research has shown that most of us can effectively get our vitamins through a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. So, do your teeth and gums (as well as the rest of your body) a favor—eat your fruits and veggies. Along with daily brushing and flossing, getting enough vitamins can go a long way toward keeping your mouth healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on nutrition and 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
Roughly 75% of American adults are missing at least one tooth, mostly from disease, trauma or extraction for other dental reasons. A few missing teeth, though, never erupted in the first place.
It’s a rare occurrence, but sometimes people are born without certain teeth, usually back molars or premolars that may not be as visible. Occasionally, though, it’s the more visible upper lateral incisors positioned on either side of the central incisors (the two front teeth on either side of the midline of the face).
Missing incisors can lead to poor bites and create difficulties for speech development and nutrition. But these highly visible (or in this case, “invisible”) teeth can also detract from an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways, however to correct a smile with missing lateral incisors. Here are 3 of those ways.
Canine substitution. We can fill the vacancy created by the missing incisors by orthodontically moving the canines (the “eyeteeth,” normally next to them) into the space. Braces can close the gap in a conservative way, while possibly correcting any existing bite problems. Because canines are larger than incisors, its often necessary to re-contour them and restore them with a crown, veneer or bonding material to look more natural.
Fixed bridge. A second way to fill the space is with a dental bridge. A bridge consists of a series of crowns fused together in a row. The middle crowns replace the missing teeth; the end crowns cap the natural teeth on either end of the gap, which establishes support for the bridge. Another variation is a cantilever bridge in which only one natural tooth is capped for support. With either type, though, the capped teeth will be permanently reduced in size to accommodate the crowns.
Dental implants. This popular restoration is also a favorite for correcting missing incisors. Implants provide a life-like and durable replacement for missing teeth, while not requiring any alterations to existing teeth as with a bridge. But they are more expensive than the other options, and they require adequate space between the adjacent teeth for insertion, as well as healthy bone for proper placement and anchorage. This is also an option that must wait until the jaw has fully matured in early adulthood.
If you would like more information on treating congenitally missing teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow: Treatment Options for Congenitally Missing Lateral Incisors.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to talk with your dentist about it. It could be your chronic sinus problems stem from a deeply decayed or infected tooth.
Sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the front of the skull associated with nasal passages. The largest, the maxillary sinuses, are located just behind the cheekbones and above and to the rear of the upper jaw on either side of the face. These sinuses can become painfully congested when infected.
One possible cause for an infection in the maxillary sinus can occur in certain people whose upper back teeth (the molars and premolars) have roots that are close to or even protrude into the sinus. This is normally a minor anatomical feature, unless such a tooth becomes infected.
An infection in teeth with advancing decay or whose nerve tissue has died will eventually reach the root tip through tiny passageways called root canals. If the roots are close to or penetrating the maxillary sinus, the infection could move into the sinus. This is known as Maxillary Sinusitis of Endodontic Origin (MSEO).
A case of MSEO could potentially go on for years with occasional flare-ups of sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Because of the nature of the infection within the sinus, the affected tooth itself may not show the normal signs of infection like sensitivity or pain. Doctors may attempt to treat the sinus infection with antibiotics, but because the actual source of the infection is within the tooth, this therapy is often ineffective.
If your doctor or dentist suspects MSEO, they may refer you to an endodontist, a specialist in root canals and interior tooth problems. With their advanced diagnostic capabilities, endodontists may have a better chance of accurately diagnosing and locating the source of a tooth-related infection.
As with any non-vital tooth, the likely treatment will be root canal therapy in which the infected tissue within the tooth is removed and the empty spaces filled to prevent future infection. For MSEO, the treatment not only preserves the tooth but may also relieve the infection within the sinus.
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