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.”
Periodontal (gum) disease can do unpleasant things to your mouth, including losing teeth. Its effects, though, may not be isolated to the oral cavity: Gum disease could make other diseases in the body worse.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. At the outset it may infect your gums causing them to swell, redden or bleed. Eventually, though, the infection can advance deeper toward the tooth roots and bone.
There are various methods to treat gum disease depending on the extensiveness of the infection. But these methods all share the same objective—to remove all uncovered plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Plaque fuels the infection, so removing it starves out the disease and helps the body to heal.
The damage gum disease can do to the teeth and the surrounding gums is reason enough to seek treatment. But treating it can also benefit your overall health. That's because the weakened gum tissues often serve as an open portal for bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream. From there they can travel to other parts of the body and cause disease.
Gum disease also shares another feature with some systemic conditions: inflammation. This is the body's response to disease or trauma that isolates damaged tissues from healthy ones. But with gum disease, this inflammation can become chronic and ironically do more harm than good.
A gum infection may also increase the body's overall inflammatory response, in turn aggravating other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Treating gum disease lowers inflammation, which in turn could ease inflammation in other conditions. Likewise, reducing your body's overall inflammatory response by properly managing these other conditions might make you less susceptible to gum disease.
It's important then to prevent and treat gum disease as if your overall health depended on it—because it does. You can prevent it by brushing and flossing daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And see your dentist promptly at the first signs of gum problems. Likewise, follow a physician-supervised program to manage any inflammatory conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing or treating 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Root canal treatments are the go-to procedures dentists use to treat a tooth with advanced internal decay that has resulted in the pulp (nerve) dying. And for good reason: root canals are responsible for saving millions of teeth that would otherwise be lost.
In the basic root canal procedure, dentists make access into a tooth's interior with a small hole drilled into the crown. They then remove all diseased tissue within the pulp chamber and root canals. These now empty spaces are then filled, and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent further infection.
This is usually a straightforward affair, although it can be complicated by an intricate root canal network. In those cases, the skills and microscopic equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals, may be needed to successfully perform the procedure.
But there are also occasional cases where it may be inadvisable to use a conventional root canal procedure to treat an endodontic infection. For example, it may be difficult to retreat a root canal on a restored tooth with a crown and supporting post in place. To do conventional root canal therapy, it would be necessary to take the restoration apart for clear access, which could further weaken or damage the remaining tooth's structure.
In this and similar situations, a dentist might use a different type of procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the source of infection through the tooth's crown, an endodontist approaches the infection through the gums. This is a minor surgical procedure that can be performed with local anesthesia.
Making an incision through the gums at the level of the affected root, the endodontist can then remove any infected tissue around the root, along with a small portion of the root tip. They then place a small filling and, if necessary, grafting material to encourage bone growth around the area. The gums are then sutured in place and the area allowed to heal.
An apicoectomy is another way to attempt saving a tooth that's well on its way to demise. Without it or an attempt at a conventional root canal treatment, you might lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on treating advanced tooth decay, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Gum recession is a serious oral condition in which the gums shrink back or “recede” from their normal position around the teeth. Because they're the primary protection for teeth below the enamel, this can expose the teeth to infection or cause painful sensitivity. And receded gums most certainly can diminish your smile.
But there are preventive measures you can adopt that might help you avoid this unpleasant condition. Here are 4 things you can do to minimize your risk for gum recession.
Practice daily oral hygiene. The main cause for recession is gum disease, a bacterial infection that weakens gum attachment to teeth. Gum disease usually arises from dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Removing it every day with brushing and flossing minimizes the risk of gum disease and gum recession.
But don't overdo it. Although brushing is key to keeping your mouth healthy, too hard and too often can damage your gums and lead to recession. A little “elbow grease” may be appropriate for other cleaning tasks, but not your teeth—use gentle strokes and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the main removal work. And avoid brushing more than twice a day.
See your dentist regularly. Your personal care efforts are a major part of preventing gum recession, but you can greatly increase the effect with professional dental care. That's because with even the best hygiene practice infections and other gum problems can still arise. You may also have inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents that increase your disease risk and bear closer monitoring.
Act quickly at the first signs of disease. Gum disease is a progressive disease, and it doesn't take long for it to become intrenched. The sooner it can be treated, the less likely you'll experience recession. So, make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice your gums are swollen, red or painful, or if they bleed easily after brushing.
There are ways to reverse gum recession. But many treatments like grafting surgery to regenerate new gum tissues can be quite involved and expensive. Following these tips can help you avoid gum recession altogether or stop it before it goes that far.
If you would like more information on how to avoid gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
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