Posts for category: Oral Health
Like many people, you might be caring for an elderly parent or family member. That care should include a focus on their teeth and gums — a healthy mouth is vitally important to their overall health, nutrition and well-being. Because of the aging process, this can be challenging.
Here are 4 areas where you should focus your attention to assure the senior adult in your life has the healthiest mouth possible.
Make adjustments for hygiene. As we grow older, arthritis and similar conditions make brushing and flossing difficult to perform. You can help your senior adult keep up these vital tasks by switching to a powered toothbrush or refitting their brush with a bike handle or tennis ball to make gripping easier. Pre-loaded floss holders or water irrigators are effective alternatives to manual flossing if it becomes too difficult.
Have dentures or other appliances checked regularly. Many older people wear full or partial dentures. Due to the nature of these appliances, the risk of bone loss over time is greater, which can eventually affect their fit. Their dentist should check them regularly and reline or repair them if possible. Eventually, they may need a new appliance to match any changing contours in the mouth.
Be aware of age-related dental issues. Age-related conditions of both the mouth and the body (like osteoporosis, which can affect bone density) can impact dental health. For example, an older person can develop lower saliva flow, often due to medications they’re taking. This, as well as gastric reflux common in older people, increases acidity and a higher risk of tooth decay. Past dental work like fillings, crowns or bridges may also make hygiene and additional treatment more difficult.
Keep up regular dental visits. In light of all this, it’s crucial to keep up with regular dental visits for continuing teeth and gum health. Besides cleanings, these visits are also important for monitoring signs of tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease and oral cancer. It’s also a good opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of their hygiene efforts and suggest adjustments.
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 were asked to identify the number one mouth problem affecting dental health, what would you name? Toothaches? Poor hygiene? Jaw joint issues?
Believe it or not, the top issue among 15,000 respondents in a recent American Dental Association (ADA) survey was dry mouth. A full one-third of the respondents had experienced chronic lack of normal saliva flow; difficulty biting and tooth pain, took second and third place, respectively.
We’ve all experienced the discomfort of temporary dry mouth when we first wake up in the morning or after eating certain foods. But chronic dry mouth is much more serious with long-term effects on a person’s teeth and gum health. This is because among its other important properties, saliva helps neutralize enamel-softening mouth acid and restores minerals to enamel after acid contact. Without sufficient saliva flow you’re much more susceptible to dental disease.
While there are several causes for dry mouth, perhaps the most common is as a side effect to at least five hundred known medications. Because older people tend to take more medications than other age groups, dry mouth is an acute problem among people over 60 (a major factor for why dry mouth took the survey’s top health problem spot).
You can help ease dry mouth from medications by first asking your doctor about switching to alternative medications that don’t affect saliva production. If not, be sure to drink more water during the day and especially when you take your oral medication (a few sips before and after).
You can help your dry mouth symptoms from any cause by drinking more water, limiting your consumption of alcohol or caffeine, and avoiding tobacco products. You can also use substances that stimulate saliva flow—a common one is xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar that’s used as a sweetener in certain gums and candies. Not only does xylitol boost saliva flow it also inhibits the growth of bacteria and thus decreases your risk of disease.
And speaking of reducing bacteria and their effects, don’t neglect daily brushing and flossing. These habits, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups, will benefit you just as much as your efforts to reduce dry mouth in avoiding dental disease.
Implant-supported fixed bridges are growing in popularity because they offer superior support to traditional bridges or dentures. They can also improve bone health thanks to the affinity between bone cells and the implants' titanium posts.
Even so, you'll still need to stay alert to the threat of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection usually triggered by dental plaque could ultimately infect the underlying bone and cause it to deteriorate. As a result the implants could loosen and cause you to lose your bridgework.
To avoid this you'll need to be as diligent with removing plaque from around your implants as you would with natural teeth. The best means for doing this is to floss around each implant post between the bridgework and the natural gums.
This type of flossing is quite different than with natural teeth where you work the floss in between each tooth. With your bridgework you'll need to thread the floss between it and the gums with the help of a floss threader, a small handheld device with a loop on one end and a stiff flat edge on the other.
To use it you'll first pull off about 18" of dental floss and thread it through the loop. You'll then gently work the sharper end between the gums and bridge from the cheek side toward the tongue. Once through to the tongue side, you'll hold one end of the floss and pull the floss threader away with the other until the floss is now underneath the bridge.
You'll then loop each end of the floss around your fingers on each hand and work the floss up and down the sides of the nearest tooth or implant. You'll then release one hand from the floss and pull the floss out from beneath the bridge. Rethread it in the threader and move to the next section of the bridge and clean those implants.
You can also use other methods like specialized floss with stiffened ends for threading, an oral irrigator (or "water flosser") that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen plaque, or an interproximal brush that can reach into narrow spaces. If you choose an interproximal brush, however, be sure it's not made with metal wire, which can scratch the implant and create microscopic crevices for plaque.
Use the method you and your dentist think best to keep your implants plaque-free. Doing so will help reduce your risk of a gum infection that could endanger your implant-supported bridgework.
If you would like more information on implant-supported bridges, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
The mouth isn’t an island unto itself — problems there may be indicative of deeper physical or emotional issues. Â The condition of a family member’s teeth and gums, for example, could be signs of bulimia, an eating disorder.
Characterized by food binging and purging through self-induced vomiting, bulimia can also have a severe effect on the teeth. Regular inducement of vomiting introduces stomach acid into the mouth that can attack and soften the mineral content of tooth enamel. As a result, 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.
The erosion pattern often differs from that produced by other high acid causes like the over-consumption of sodas. Because the tongue instinctively covers the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, they’re often shielded from much of the acid wash. Bulimics are much more apt to exhibit heavier erosion on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Bulimia and similar disorders produce other signs as well, like soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that exhibit puffiness of the face. The roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may appear roughened from the use of fingers or objects to induce gagging.
Unlike sufferers of anorexia nervosa who tend to be negligent about their hygiene (which itself increases their risk of dental disease), bulimics have a heightened sensitivity to their appearance. This concern may prompt them to aggressively brush right after purging, which can cause more of the softened enamel to be removed.
Treating the dental consequences of bulimia requires a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we want to lessen the impact of stomach acid by discouraging the person from brushing immediately after purging — better to rinse with water and a little baking soda to buffer the acid and wait about an hour before brushing. We may also suggest a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen and re-mineralize the enamel.
In the long-term, though, the disorder itself must be addressed through professional help. One good source is the National Eating Disorders website (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Besides information, the association also provides a toll-free helpline for referrals to professionals.
As with any eating disorder, bulimia can be trying for patients and their families. Addressing the issue gently but forthrightly will begin their journey toward the renewal of health, including their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
A couple of years ago the Associated Press published an article claiming the health benefits of flossing remained unproven. The article cited a number of studies that seemed to conclude the evidence for the effectiveness of flossing in helping to prevent dental disease as “weak.”
As you can imagine, dental providers were a bit chagrined while flossers everywhere threw away their dental floss and happily declared their independence from their least favorite hygiene task. It would have seemed the Age of Flossing had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
But, the demise of flossing may have been greatly exaggerated. A new study from the University of North Carolina seems to contradict the findings cited in the AP article. This more recent study looked at dental patients in two groups—those who flossed and those who didn’t—during two periods of five and ten years respectively. The new study found conclusively that the flosser group on average had a lower risk of tooth loss than the non-flossers.
While this is an important finding, it may not completely put the issue to rest. But assuming it does, let’s get to the real issue with flossing: a lot of people don’t like it, for various reasons. It can be time-consuming; it can be messy; and, depending on a person’s physical dexterity, difficult to perform.
On the latter, there are some things you can do to make it a less difficult task. You can use a floss threader, a device that makes it easier to thread the floss through the teeth. You can also switch to an oral irrigator or “water flosser,” a pump device that sprays a fine, pressurized stream of water to break up plaque between teeth and flush most of it away. We can also give you tips and training for flossing with just your fingers and thread.
But whatever you do, don’t give up the habit. It may not be your most favorite hygiene task but most dentists agree it can help keep your teeth healthy for the long-term.