As we get older, we become more susceptible to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. We can also begin to see more problems with our teeth and gums.
Whether it's ourselves or an older loved one, oral health deserves a heightened focus as we age on prevention and prompt treatment. Here's what you can do to protect you or a family member's teeth and gums during the aging process.
Make accommodations for oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth clean of disease-causing plaque is important at any age. But it may become harder for someone getting older: Manual dexterity can falter due to conditions like arthritis or Parkinson's Disease. Older adults with decreased physical ability may benefit from larger gripped toothbrushes or those modified with a bicycle handle. Electric power brushes are another option, as are water irrigators that can do as effective a job of flossing as threaded floss.
Watch out for “dry mouth.” Older adults often develop chronic dry mouth due to saliva-reducing medications they might be taking. It's not just an unpleasant feeling: Inadequate saliva deprives the mouth of acid neutralization. As a result, someone with chronic dry mouth has a higher risk for tooth decay. You can reduce dry mouth by talking with your doctor about prescriptions for you or a family member, drinking more water or using saliva boosting products.
Maintain regular dental visits. Regular trips to the dentist are especially important for older adults. Besides professional cleanings, dentists also check for problems that increase with aging, such as oral cancer. An older adult wearing dentures or other oral appliances also needs to have them checked periodically for any adverse changes to fit or wear.
Monitor self-care. As long as they're able, older adults should be encouraged to care daily for their own teeth. But they should also be monitored in these areas, especially if they begin to show signs of decreased mental or physical abilities. So, evaluate how they're doing with brushing and flossing, and look for signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
Aging brings its own set of challenges for maintaining optimum dental health. But taking proactive steps and acting quickly when problems arise will help meet those challenges as they come.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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.”
Your tooth enamel’s main nemesis is oral acid: normally produced by bacteria, foods or beverages, acid can dissolve enamel’s mineral content and cause erosion and decay. But acid might be a bigger problem for you if you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into the digestive tract. Normally, a ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from coming up into it. But if it weakens, this powerful acid can splash up into the esophagus and irritate its more delicate lining and result in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion.
The problem for teeth, though, is that GERD could cause stomach acid to potentially come up into the mouth. Because of its high acidic pH (2.0 or less), stomach acid can cause major erosion in tooth enamel, leaving them pitted, yellow and sensitive. If not caught and treated early, some of your teeth could be damaged to the point that they have a questionable prognosis.
There are some things you can do to minimize GERD’s effect on your dental health. First and foremost, see a doctor about managing your symptoms, which might include medication. Be sure you also inform your dentist that you have GERD and what medications you’re taking.
One way to lessen the effect of higher acid in the mouth is to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, taking a saliva booster or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also rinse with plain water or water mixed with baking soda (1/2 teaspoon to a cup of water), or chew an antacid tablet to help balance your mouth’s pH level.
And don’t forget to look out for your enamel. Be sure you’re practicing daily brushing and flossing and using fluoride hygiene products to strengthen it. Your dentist can also apply topical solutions or prescribe special rinses with higher concentrations of fluoride.
GERD can be an unpleasant experience that escalates into major problems. Don’t let it compromise your dental health.
COVID-19 containment restrictions could put a kink in many of our vacation plans this summer. With leisure air travel discouraged and popular attractions like Disney closed, this may be the year for a “staycation.” But however your summer plans turn out, be sure you keep up with the essentials—like taking care of your teeth and gums.
Vacations, whether a road trip or a camping getaway in your own backyard, are times to recharge the “mental batteries” by temporarily leaving everyday life behind. But not everything—you still need to take care of life's necessities, including daily dental care. Not to sound like a schoolmarm, but there is no vacation from brushing and flossing.
Actually, it's not that onerous: Just five short minutes a day is all you need to effectively perform these two essential hygiene tasks before you head out for your vacation activities (or non-activities, as the case may be). During those five minutes, though, you'll be removing built-up dental plaque, a bacterial film that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
You should also keep an eye on your vacation diet. For many people, seasonal getaways often come with an increase in sweet treats like pastries, ice cream or, the perennial campfire favorite, s'mores. But increased sugar may also raise your risk for dental disease. So, limit those sweet treats, consider alternative snacks without sugar, and brush after eating to keep tooth decay or gum disease from getting a foothold.
An equally important measure for maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a regular dental visit at least twice a year. During these visits we'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque or tartar (hardened plaque) and check for any signs of dental disease. Our goal is to keep you in the best oral health for the long haul.
Everyone needs a break from the routine now and then, even if it's a creative alternative to the traditional summer trip. Just be sure you have your dental care covered before your vacation.
If you would like more information about daily and regular dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
Over the last few months, federal, state and local officials have taken extraordinary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, some of these measures are beginning to ease. But for many of us, lingering concerns about exposure to the virus will continue to affect our daily lives—including routine activities like dental visits.
We may be asking the question “Is it safe?” for our everyday activities for some time to come. But in regard to seeing your dentist, the answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes.” That's due not only to enhanced precautions put in place because of COVID-19, but also to longstanding practices in the dental profession to minimize the chances of infection.
In recognition this June of National Safety Month, we'd like to put your mind at ease that resuming dental care won't put you at undue risk of COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. Here's how:
Protocols. Everything we do to protect patients and staff from infection is part of an overall plan. This isn't optional: Both governments and professional organizations require it of every dental practitioner. Our plan, based on best practices for infection control, details the procedures we'll use to keep everyone involved in dental treatment, including you, safe from infection.
Barriers. Wearing masks, gloves or other protective equipment isn't a new practice arising from the current crisis—barrier protection has been a critical part of infection control protocols for many years. Rest assured that even during the most routine dental procedures, our staff will wear appropriate barrier equipment to reduce the possibility of infection during treatment.
Disinfection. Viruses and other infectious agents can live for some time on surfaces. To close this possible route of infection, we clean all clinical surfaces between patient visits with approved disinfectants. Instruments and equipment are thoroughly sterilized after each use. And any waste generated during treatment is separated from common waste and disposed of carefully following hazardous waste removal protocols.
It may be a slow return to many aspects of life we once took for granted. Your dental care doesn't have to be one of them. We were prepared before this crisis, and we'll continue to be prepared when it's over to keep you safe from infection.
If you would like more information about dental office safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.