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.”
If you've been dealing with a tooth that needs to be removed—or it's already missing—you may be looking to replace it with a dental implant. And it's a great choice: No other restoration can provide the appearance and function of a real tooth like an implant.
You and your smile are ready for it. The question is, though, are your gums and underlying bone ready? These dental structures play a critical role in an implant's stability and eventual appearance. A problem with them may make placing an implant difficult if not impossible.
An implant requires around 2.0 millimeters of bone thickness surrounding the implant surface for adequate support and to minimize the chances of gum recession. But tooth loss often leads to bone loss that can drop its thickness below this threshold. This can make placing an implant problematic.
Fortunately, though, we may be able to address the lack of sufficient bone through bone grafting. By placing grafting material within the empty socket, we create a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time this subsequent growth may be enough to maintain an adequate thickness of bone for an implant to be placed.
The gums may also pose a problem if they've shrunk back or receded from their normal positions, as often happens because of gum disease (which may also have precipitated the tooth loss). Again, grafting procedures can help ensure there's adequate gum coverage for the implant. And healthier gums may also help protect the underlying bone from loss.
There are several techniques for placing gum tissue grafts, depending on how much recession has taken place. One procedure in particular is often used in conjunction with implant placement. A small layer of synthetic collagen material or gum tissue referred to as pa dermal apron is included with the implant when its placed. Settling into the bone socket, this apron helps thicken the gum tissues, as well as preserve the underlying bone.
During your preliminary exams, we'll assess your bone and gum health to determine if we should take any steps like these to improve them. It may add some time to the implant process, but the end result will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Immediate Dental Implants.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
You have a wonderful pediatric dentist who's great with kids. Their dental office is a children's wonderland with cheerful colors, toys and a staff that tries to make things fun. But no matter what you do—including rewards and positive praise—it's not enough to calm your child's anxiety during dental visits.
Even with the most conducive clinical environment and parental efforts, some children still have an inordinate fear of seeing the dentist. Their anxiety could be a roadblock to getting the treatment they need to maintain good oral health and development. And if that fear carries over into adulthood, they may get into the habit of postponing needed care.
But dentists have an important tool they can use to help children relax: conscious sedation therapy. Using proven sedation medication, dentists can place patients in varying degrees of suppressed consciousness.
Although often used in conjunction, sedation is not the same as anesthesia. The latter is used to eliminate pain during dental procedures. Sedation, on the other hand, aims to calm the negative emotions generated by dental anxiety. A child under sedation can still breathe normally without assistance and respond to physical stimulation or verbal commands.
Sedation medications can be administered orally, usually in syrup form, or with an intravenous (IV) drip. Two of the more popular drugs are Midazolam and Hydroxyzine, both of which act fast and then leave the body quickly after the procedure. These types of sedation drugs have a very low risk of side effects compared to general anesthesia.
While under sedation, the child's vital signs (heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, etc.) are continuously monitored. Afterward, they'll wait in recovery until their vital signs are back to their pre-sedation levels. They can then go home to rest for the remainder of the day, and then usually return to school or other normal activities the following day.
Besides making it easier for a child to receive needed dental care, conscious sedation can also make the overall visit more pleasant, and lead to more positive memories of the experience. This may indeed help them later in life to overcome any lingering anxiety and continue regular dental care throughout adulthood.
If you would like more information on reducing your child's dental visit anxiety, 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 “Sedation Dentistry for Kids.”
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.”
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