Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to spotlight an often unsung group: individuals providing primary care for another family member. During November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes those caring for children with special needs or senior adults with life challenges—and part of that ongoing care includes watching out for their loved one's oral health.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy requires a concerted personal effort to prevent dental disease. While most of us can handle this on our own, some need assistance. If you're caring for someone like this, be sure you focus on two main areas: daily hygiene and regular dental visits. These are the two foundation stones for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
The relatively simple tasks of brushing and flossing are crucial for disease prevention—but they can pose a challenge for someone with diminished physical, mental or behavioral capacity. In some cases, you as a caregiver may have to perform the task for them.
But even someone with severe limitations may be able to do these tasks for themselves with some adaptations. For one, choose a place for brushing and flossing that's most comfortable for the person (not necessarily the bathroom) and keep to a routine schedule. Above all, approach the task in a positive and playful way, especially for children.
Choose a toothbrush and flosser that your loved one can easily handle. Flossers are also available with toothbrush-sized grips for those with less manual dexterity. An older person with arthritis may need an extra-large grip or a toothbrush modified with a bicycle handle. As an alternative, both children and older adults may benefit from using an electric toothbrush. Some special needs children can have a gag response to toothpaste, so you may wish to use less or substitute it with a diluted fluoride mouthwash on the brush.
Dry mouth is a concern among many older adults, often due to the medications they take. In fact, hundreds of medications can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva serves the important oral health function of washing away food debris and neutralizing acid in the mouth, but when saliva production is low, it is not only uncomfortable—it greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. To help with dry mouth, encourage your loved one to drink more water during the day and ask us to recommend a product that will boost their saliva production. You can also ask their physicians about drug alternatives without dry mouth side effects.
To make dental visits easier, be sure we know about any needs or conditions that might affect their care. If possible, accompany your older family member during their visit: Because health problems often increase with age, even routine visits may be more involved.
We understand that caring for family members who need assistance can be demanding, with needs often being prioritized. We urge you to keep dental care on the high-priority list—it could make a difference with the rest of their health and overall quality of life.
If you would like more information about oral care for a family member with special needs, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
Your child's permanent teeth come in gradually, starting just as they begin losing their primary ("baby") teeth and not ending until late adolescence or early adulthood. That's when the third molars or "wisdom teeth" close out the process.
Because of their late arrival, wisdom teeth have a high potential for dental problems. With a greater chance of crowding or obstruction by other teeth, wisdom teeth often get stuck fully or partially below the gums and bone (impaction) or erupt out of position. In one study, 7 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 30 will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth at some time in their lives.
It's not surprising then that wisdom teeth are among the most extracted teeth, to the tune of about 10 million per year. Besides those already diseased or causing bite problems, many are removed preemptively in an attempt to avoid future problems.
But wisdom teeth usually require surgical extraction by an oral surgeon, which is much more involved than a simple extraction by a general dentist. Given the potential consequences of surgical extraction, is it really necessary to remove a wisdom tooth not creating immediate problems?
That's not an easy question to answer because it's often difficult to predict a wisdom tooth's developmental track. Early on it can be disease-free and not causing any problems to other teeth. But as some researchers have found, one in three wisdom teeth at this stage will later develop disease or create other issues.
For many dentists, the best approach is to consider extraction on a case by case basis. Those displaying definite signs of problems are prime for removal. But where there are no signs of disease or other issues, the more prudent action may be to keep a watchful eye on their development and decide on extraction at some later date.
More than likely, your dentist will continue to have an ongoing discussion with you about the state of your child's wisdom teeth. While extraction is always an option, wisdom teeth that aren't yet a problem to dental health may be best left alone.
The electronic cigarette (e-cig), the much-acclaimed smoking alternative, has recently been linked to hundreds of lung-related illnesses and deaths among otherwise healthy young adults. But dentists were actually among the first to sound alarm bells on the potential harm of “vaping,” particularly to dental health.
If you're vaping as a substitute for smoking, you may be trading one set of oral health risks for another. Many dentists believe vaping may be no safer for your mouth than traditional tobacco.
An e-cig is a small, handheld device that holds a mixture of water, flavoring and chemicals. The device heats the liquid until it becomes a gaseous aerosol the user inhales into their lungs. Proponents say it's a safer and cleaner alternative to smoking. But, like cigarettes, vaping mixtures can contain nicotine. This chemical constricts blood vessels, decreasing nutrients and infection-fighting agents to the gums and increasing the risk of gum disease.
And although vaping flavorings are FDA-approved as a food additive, there's some evidence as an aerosol they irritate the mouth's inner membranes and cause mouth dryness similar to smoking. Vaping liquids also contain propylene glycol for moisture preservation, which some studies have shown increases a buildup of plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease.
All of these different effects from vaping can create a perfect storm in the mouth for disease. So, rather than switch to vaping, consider quitting the tobacco habit altogether. It's a solid thing to do for your teeth and gums, not to mention the rest of the body.
As we commemorate the Great American Smokeout on November 21, this month is the perfect time to take action. Here are some tips to help you kick the habit.
Don't try to quit all at once. Your body has developed a physical connection with nicotine, so quitting “cold turkey” can be extremely difficult and unpleasant. Although different approaches work for different people, you may find it easier to overcome your habit by gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.
Enroll in a cessation program. There are a number of step-by-step programs, some involving medication, that can help you quit smoking. Talk to us or your doctor about using a cessation program to end your tobacco habit.
Seek support from others. Beating the smoking habit can be tough if you're trying to do it solo. Instead, enlist the help of family and friends to support you and keep you on track. Consider also joining a supervised support group for quitting smoking near you or online.
Smoking can harm your dental health and vaping may be just as harmful. Distancing yourself from both habits will help you maintain a healthier smile and a healthier life.
If you would like more information about the effects of vaping and tobacco use, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Vaping and Oral Health” and “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Among dental restorations, implants are the closest prosthetic we have to real teeth. They not only replace the visible crown, but the titanium post imbedded in the jawbone adequately substitutes for the tooth root. Because of their unique design, implants are not only life-like, they’re highly durable and could potentially last for decades.
But while their success rate is remarkably high (more than 95% exceed the ten-year mark), they can fail. Ironically, one possible cause for implant failure is periodontal (gum) disease. Although an implant’s materials are themselves impervious to disease, the tissues and underlying bone that support the implant aren’t. If these natural tissues become infected, the secure hold the implant has can weaken and fail.
A gum infection usually begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Certain strains of bacteria within plaque can infect the gums. One particular form of the disease known as peri-implantitis starts as an initial infection and ensuing inflammation of gum tissues around an implant. The disease can quickly spread down to the bone and destroy the integration between the bone and the implant that helps keep the implant in place.
That’s why it’s important for you to keep the implant and the tissues around it clean of plaque, just as you would the rest of your natural teeth. This requires daily brushing and flossing around the implant and other teeth, and visiting your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings.
You should also be alert to any signs of disease, especially around implants: gum redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. Because of the rapidity with which peri-implantitis can spread, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs.
Preventing gum disease, and treating it promptly if it occurs, is a key part of implant longevity. Preserving your overall dental health will help make sure your implant doesn’t become a loss statistic.
There are ways you can look younger, including eating a better diet and getting physically fit. Cosmetic enhancements can also take years off your appearance.
But while looking for a more youthful appearance be sure you include a "smile update." Your teeth and gums age like the rest of the body—even more so if you've contended with dental disease. Here are 4 ways you might be able to take years off your smile.
Teeth whitening. Teeth naturally yellow as we age, so it's not uncommon for older teeth to look dull. But your dentist can brighten your smile with teeth whitening, the application of a controlled bleaching solution to lighten them. It only works with enamel discoloration and it does fade over time. But it can temporarily change the dynamic of your smile for the better.
Dental enhancements. You can "put a new face" on unattractive older teeth with a number of life-like materials and techniques. Dentists can apply and sculpt composite resin material to fix small chips in teeth. Dental veneers, thin wafers of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth, can mask chips, heavy staining or slight gaps, and can make worn teeth look longer. And life-like crowns can completely cover teeth with major disfigurement.
Dental work updates. Many people have dental work—fillings, crowns, bridges and the like—from earlier in life. It might be time to "revisit" those with a fresh update. For example, a dark grey metal amalgam filling could be replaced with a newer tooth-colored restoration made of composite material or porcelain.
Gum treatments. Your teeth might not be the only elements of your smile needing attention. Gums that have shrunk back or receded from the teeth can ruin your smile. In some cases, treating any underlying gum disease could help them heal and regain their tooth attachment. For major recession, though, you may need grafting surgery to regenerate lost gum tissue, improving both your oral health and your smile.
These and other techniques can turn back the clock on your smile. The best way to maintain a youthful smile, though, is to take care of your teeth and gums through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. Healthy teeth and gums make beautiful smiles.
If you would like more information on rejuvenating your smile, 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 “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
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