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.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, the best thing you can do for your kids' dental health is to see that they're eating a nutritious diet. And not just at mealtime—healthy snacking also promotes healthy teeth and gums.
Healthy snack foods are quite similar to their counterparts at mealtime: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. At the same time, you should avoid providing processed snacks high in sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and calories.
Managing snack choices at home is usually a simple matter of discipline and follow-through. When they're at school, however, it's a bit trickier as they may encounter snacks sold on school grounds or offered by fellow students that don't meet your definition of a healthy food. Public schools follow nutrition guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on snacks sold on school grounds, but many dentists don't believe the standard goes far enough to protect dental health.
So, what can you do to combat these less healthy snack choices your kids may encounter at school? For one thing, you can work with your child's school officials to exceed the USDA guidelines or turn off snack vending machines right before lunch to lessen kids' temptation to skip lunch.
You can also interact with your children to better manage their schooltime snacking. But rather than issue blanket commands about what they should snack on at school, help them instead understand the difference between nutritional foods and less nutritional ones, and why it's important to choose healthy snacks for their life and health.
Finally, don't send them to school empty-handed—pack along nutritious snacks so that they won't seek out vending machines or their classmates to satisfy the munchies. You can supercharge your efforts with a little creativity (like a dash of cinnamon in a bag of unbuttered popcorn) that make your snacks fun and more enticing than other school ground options.
It's not always easy to keep your kids from unhealthy snack choices. But with a little commitment, interaction and ingenuity, you can help steer them toward snacks that are tooth-friendly.
If you would like more information on boosting your child's 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 “Snacking at School: How to Protect Your Child's Teeth and Promote Good Nutrition.”
Chronic jaw pain and limited jaw mobility are two common symptoms of a group of conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD or TMD). Several effective treatments have developed over the years, despite the fact that the underlying causes for TMD remain an elusive quarry for medical researchers.
But we may now have a promising new lead in understanding TMD: a possible link between it and other systemic inflammatory diseases. In recent study researchers interviewed over 1,500 people with TMD about various aspects of their lives. Nearly two-thirds reported at least three or more other inflammatory health conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic headaches or rheumatoid arthritis.
These statistics suggest a relationship between TMD and these other conditions. Further exploration of these possible links could result not only in a greater understanding of TMD but better treatment strategies for it and the other related conditions.
In the meantime, though, what can you do if you're currently dealing with TMD?
As of now the approaches with the best results continue to be conservative, non-invasive techniques we've used for several years. Thermal therapies like hot or cold compresses to the jaw area, for example, are quite effective in providing pain relief, and muscle relaxant drugs have proven beneficial for improving jaw mobility.
More radical approaches like jaw surgery have also come into prominence. But there's a caveat here: a significant number of people find their conditions don't improve or may even worsen. In the study previously mentioned, only 38% of respondents who had undergone jaw surgery saw any range of improvement (from slight to significant); by contrast, 28% indicated no change in symptoms and 46% said they were worse off.
It's important, then, that you thoroughly discuss your condition with your dentist, verifying first that you have TMD.Â Together you can develop a treatment plan to relieve pain and restore jaw function. If your dentist or surgeon suggests surgery, consider seeking a second opinion before choosing this more radical approach.
Hopefully, further research into the causes and relationships of TMD with other health conditions will yield still better treatments. In the meantime, you may still find relief and improve your quality of life with the proven techniques available now.
If you would like more information on treatments for chronic jaw pain, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
For people with edentulism (total loss of teeth), removable dentures is a viable option for regaining both lost function and an attractive appearance. From the moment they begin wearing them, denture wearers can chew food, speak and smile with confidence.
But there are downsides to dentures, especially if they’re not cared for properly. Dentures put pressure on the gums and bony ridges of the jaw, which can cause bone to dissolve (resorb) and decrease its volume over time. Without proper maintenance they can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that not only lead to bad breath but, in cases of partial dentures, can increase the risk of dental disease. They could also contribute to serious systemic diseases.
You can reduce some of these risks by following these 3 important denture maintenance tips. Doing so will help extend the life of your dentures, as well as keep your mouth healthy.
Clean your dentures at least once a day. In addition to taking your dentures out and rinsing them with water after eating, you should also brush them daily with dish detergent, antibacterial soap or denture cleaner — but not toothpaste, which is too abrasive. Effervescent (fizzing) cleaning tablets also aren’t a viable substitute for manual brushing in removing disease-causing plaque from denture surfaces.
Take your dentures out at night while you sleep. Wearing dentures 24/7 can hasten bone loss, as well as increase your chances of dental disease or even more serious illnesses. A recent study, for example, found nursing home patients who left their dentures in at night were twice as likely to experience serious complications from pneumonia as those who didn’t. While you sleep, store your dentures in water or in a solution of alkaline peroxide made for this purpose.
Brush your gums and tongue every day. Keeping your gum surfaces clean will help reduce the levels of bacteria and other microbes that can cause disease. You can either use an extra-soft tooth brush (not the one you use to clean your dentures) or a damp washcloth.
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