Posts for: June, 2020
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 child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
If you've had periodontal (gum) disease, you've no doubt experienced gum inflammation, bleeding or pain. But your gums may not be the only mouth structures under assault — the disease may be damaging the underlying support bone.
Although easing soft tissue symptoms is important, our primary focus is to protect all your teeth's supporting structures — the gums, the attaching ligaments and, of course, the bone. To do so we must stop the infection and reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Stopping gum disease depends on removing its source — plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces, due to poor oral hygiene. We must remove it mechanically — with hand instruments known as scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) loose.
It's not always a straightforward matter, though, especially if the diseased gum tissues have pulled away from the teeth. The slight natural gap between teeth can widen into voids known as periodontal pockets; they fill with infection and can extend several millimeters below the gum line. We must thoroughly cleanse these pockets, sometimes with invasive techniques like root planing (removing plaque from the roots) or surgical access. You may also need tissue grafting to regenerate gum attachment to the teeth.
One of the more difficult scenarios involves pockets where roots divide, known as furcations. This can cause cave-like voids of bone loss. Unless we treat it, the continuing bone loss will eventually lead to tooth loss. Besides plaque removal, it may also be prudent in these cases to use antimicrobial products (such as a mouthrinse with chlorhexidine) or antibiotics like tetracycline to reduce bacterial growth.
Perhaps the most important factor is what happens after treatment. To maintain gum health and reduce the chances of re-infection, you'll need to practice diligent daily hygiene, including brushing, flossing and any prescribed rinses. You should also keep up a regular schedule of office cleanings and checkups, sometimes more than twice a year depending on your degree of disease.
If you would like more information on treatments for gum disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”