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.”
While children are less likely than adults to experience periodontal (gum) disease, the same can't be said for tooth decay. One aggressive form of decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can have a profound effect on a child's dental development and future health.
That's why dentists who treat young children often use a variety of preventive measures to reduce the risk of ECC and other dental diseases. One popular method is dental sealants, dental material coatings applied to the biting surfaces of teeth that fill in the naturally occurring pits and crevices. These areas are highly susceptible to plaque formation, a bacterial biofilm of food particles that tends to accumulate on teeth. It's the bacteria that live in plaque that are most responsible for the formation of tooth decay.
Roughly one third of children between the ages of 6 and 11 have received some form of dental sealant. It's a quick and painless procedure applied during a routine office visit. The dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form on the teeth, and then hardens it with a special curing light. It's common for children to begin obtaining sealant protection as their molars begin to come in.
With their increased popularity among dentists, researchers have conducted a number of studies to see whether dental sealants have a measurable effect reducing tooth decay. After reviewing the cases of thousands of children over several years, many of these studies seemed to show that children who didn't receive sealants were more than twice as likely to get cavities as children who did.
As evidence continues to mount for dental sealants' effectiveness protecting young children from decay, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommend it for all children. Not only can sealants help preserve children's teeth now, but they can reduce future costs for dental treatment that results from tooth decay.
The month of March brings the first day of spring, when nature seems to wake up after a restful winter slumber. It also brings Sleep Awareness Week, which leads us to ask: How's your sleep? For around one of every three people, the answer seems to be: Not so good! In fact, it's estimated that some 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone have sleep problems, including sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
People who suffer from this condition seem to sleep fitfully and snore loudly—and they may actually wake up dozens of times every night without even knowing it. These "micro-arousals" make it impossible to get restful sleep, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and behavioral issues. Children with sleep disorders like OSA are sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders because the symptoms are very similar.
If you suspect that you (or someone you care about) may have a serious sleep disorder, it's a good idea to get an examination from a medical professional who specializes in this area. If the diagnosis is OSA, there are a number of treatments that can be effective—one of which is an oral appliance that's available from the dental office.
Dentists are quite familiar with the anatomical structure of the mouth, which is sometimes the root cause of OSA. In many individuals, the soft tissue structures in the back of the oral cavity (including the tonsils, tongue and soft palate) can shift position when muscles relax during sleep and block the flow of air through the windpipe. The lack of sufficient air may cause a person to awaken briefly, gasp for breath, and then relax their muscles—over and over again, all night long.
After a complete exam, we can have an appliance custom-made for you that has proven successful in managing mild to moderate cases of OSA. Shaped a little like a retainer, it is worn in your mouth at night and taken out in the daytime. The appliance helps maintain an open airway by re-positioning the jaw and/or keeping the tongue out of the way.
Oral appliance therapy is one of the most conservative options available for treating OSA: It requires no major equipment or irreversible medical procedures. However, there are a number of other options, including machines that supply pressurized air through a face mask and even oral surgery. It's important to consult with a specialist in sleep disorders when you're facing this issue. If the diagnosis is OSA or a similar sleep problem, remember that help may be available here at the dental office.
If you have questions about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
A beautiful smile is a balanced smile, especially in regard to your gums. A normal smile usually shows 4 mm or less of gum tissue along with about 10 mm of tooth length. But if your gums show more than that, your smile may seem too gummy. In terms of perceived balance, this could detract from your smile's attractiveness.
Fortunately, you don't have to live with a gummy smile—there are various ways to correct or minimize its effect. First, though, we'll need to determine the underlying cause before deciding on the best treatment. And, there are several possible causes, the obvious being too much gum tissue present. Teeth that appear shorter due to wear or incomplete eruption could also make the gums appear larger.
We may be able to correct these size problems by surgically removing and reshaping excess gum tissues and possibly the underlying bone to reveal more of the teeth. We can also bond composite resins or porcelain veneers to shorter teeth to make them appear larger.
But not all gummy smile problems pertain directly to the teeth and gums; instead, it could be your upper lip moves too far up as you smile (hypermobility). Or, your upper jaw may be too long for your face, which can also cause too much of the gums to show during smiling.
With upper lip hypermobility, we may be able to inhibit the lip muscles' movement temporarily with Botox injections that partially paralyze the muscles (the effect eventually wears off, so this treatment will need to be repeated). A periodontist, an oral surgeon, or a plastic surgeon could also permanently alter the upper lip movement through a surgical procedure. Surgery may also be necessary for an abnormally long upper jaw: orthognathic surgery re-positions the jaw to the skull, which can lessen the amount of gums showing.
If your smile is too gummy, we can transform it. But first, let's find out what the real cause is with a comprehensive dental examination. Once we know, we can better advise you on the best way to bring beautiful balance to your smile.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
It's National Nutrition Month! Good nutrition is key to overall health, but poor dental health can have a big impact on your ability to get the right nutrients. Your mouth is the first step in the digestive system, so if teeth and gums are in poor shape, food choices can be severely limited. Here are some nutritional guidelines that will benefit your oral health as well as your overall health.
Get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods provide many oral health benefits:
- Crunchy fruits and vegetables scrub debris from your teeth during chewing and stimulate the production of saliva, which neutralizes acid and helps rebuild tooth enamel.
- Dark, leafy greens are a good source of iron, calcium and many vitamins that are good for your teeth and gums.
- Several fruits have vitamin C, an essential for healthy gums.
- Bananas have magnesium, which builds tooth enamel.
- Many yellow and orange fruits supply vitamin A, which keeps the soft membranes in your mouth healthy.
Go for dairy. Dairy products—for example, cheese, milk and unsweetened yogurt—neutralize acid as well as contribute tooth- and bone-strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Eat whole grains. An excess of refined carbohydrates can lead to chronic inflammation, which contributes to gum disease and many other ailments. However, the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains work against inflammation.
Incorporate all food groups. Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods from all food groups. For example:
- Lean proteins are essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
- Good fats such as those found in salmon and nuts work against inflammation. In addition, nuts stimulate the production of saliva and contain vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong.
- Legumes are a great source of many tooth-healthy vitamins and minerals.
Limit sugary or acidic foods and beverages. Acid from certain foods and beverages can weaken tooth enamel, leading to cavities. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities. How you eat and drink also affects dental health. For example, if you indulge in sugary treats, do so with a meal if possible so that other foods can help neutralize the acid. And if you drink lemonade or soda, don't brush your teeth immediately afterwards. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your saliva a chance to neutralize the acid.
Getting the right nutrition for a healthy body requires good dental health, so it pays to take good care of your teeth. For a lifetime of good oral health, choose foods that keep your teeth and gums healthy, and don't forget to schedule regular dental checkups to make sure your teeth and gums are in great shape. If you have questions about diet and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
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