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.”
From the time they're born, you do everything you can to help your children develop a healthy body. That should include their teeth and gums. It's not over-dramatizing to say that what you do now may set the pattern for a healthy mouth for the rest of their life.
Here, then, are 4 things you should be doing for your children's oral health before they begin school.
Train them to brush and floss. Good hygiene habits have one primary purpose — remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so focus on brushing and later flossing as soon as their first teeth appear in the mouth, gradually training them to perform the tasks themselves. You can also teach them to test their efforts with a rub of the tongue — if it feels smooth and “squeaky,” their teeth are clean!
Keep your own oral bacteria to yourself. Children aren't born with decay-producing bacteria — it's passed on to them through physical contact from parents and caregivers. To limit their exposure to these “bad” bacteria, avoid kissing infants on the lips, don't share eating utensils and don't lick a pacifier to clean it off.
Eat healthy — and watch those sweets. Building up healthy teeth with strong enamel is as important to decay prevention as daily hygiene. Be sure they're getting the nutrients they need through a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy (and set a good example by eating nutritiously too). Sugar is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay, so avoid sugary snacks if possible and limit consumption to mealtimes.
Wean them off pacifiers and thumb sucking. It's quite normal for children to suck pacifiers and their thumbs as infants and young toddlers. It becomes a problem for bite development, though, if these habits continue into later childhood. As a rule of thumb, begin encouraging your children to stop sucking pacifiers or their thumbs by age 3.
If you would like more information on promoting 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 “Help your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
If you love ice cream, then you'll get a kick out of this: Your favorite treat has its own month. That's right, July is National Ice Cream Month, when we celebrate—and indulge in—one of the most delicious concoctions ever known. Just don't overdo it, among other reasons, for the sake of your teeth.
In a way, it's a bit of a love-hate relationship between this frozen wonderfulness and your dental health. Like any dairy, ice cream is full of nutrients like calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D that together strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. But this nutritional benefit is tempered in most ice cream by its other major ingredient: sugar.
Sugar can be a problem for your teeth because disease-causing oral bacteria love it just as much as you do. It's a prime food source for them, and when there's a lot available (like right after you finish that dipped cone) bacteria go crazy multiplying and producing acid. This could lead to tooth decay or gum disease.
Sugar's effect on dental health is an issue not only with ice cream but with other desserts and sweetened snacks as well. What can you do, then, to have your ice cream (or cake) and your dental health too?
Moderate your consumption. We're not saying you have to give up sweet desserts like ice cream—just keep your portions small and infrequent. Partake of them mainly as an occasional treat rather than as standard everyday fare.
Brush after eating. The biggest threat to dental health is the sugar that lingers in the mouth after we eat something sweet like ice cream. So, wash your mouth out with water and then brush your teeth after eating to remove any residual sugar. But not right away—give your saliva a chance to neutralize any mouth acid first by waiting about thirty minutes.
Choose healthier options. Instead of diving into a bowl of butter pecan or rocky road when you get the urge to snack, try a little non-fat Greek yogurt or cheese with some fresh fruit. Choosing alternatives like these can still give you the benefit of dairy without the excess sugar.
Ice cream is one of those indulgent little pleasures that make life sweet. Just be sure you're enjoying it within healthy limits to protect your dental health.
If you would like more information about nutrition and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
People have depended on dentures for generations—and they still do. That's because they work, both in restoring dental function and a smile marred by missing teeth.
But they have one major drawback related to bone health. That's because living bone has a life cycle: as older cells die, new ones form to take their place. The pressure generated when we chew stimulates this growth. But when this stimulus goes missing along with the teeth, the cell replacement rate slows and bone volume and density gradually diminishes.
Traditional dentures can't transmit this chewing pressure stimulus. And because they rest directly on the gum ridges, they can adversely affect the underlying bone and actually accelerate bone loss.
But implant technology potentially solves this bone loss problem with dentures by using implants rather than the gums to support them. It's a two-fold benefit: first, the implants relieve much of the irritation to the gums and bone caused by traditional dentures. Primarily, though, the implants themselves can slow or even stop continuing bone loss.
Most implants are made of titanium, not only because it's compatible with the body, but also because it has an affinity with bone. Over time bone cells grow on the titanium post imbedded in the jawbone. This process not only creates stability and durability, it can improve bone health.
In recent years dentists have incorporated implants with dentures to create two exciting treatment options. With one option, the dentist installs two or more implants in the jaw, to which a specially fitted removable denture can be attached. You would still have the ease of removing the denture for cleaning, while gaining greater stability and a reduced risk of bone loss.
The other option is a fixed denture (or bridge) attached permanently to implants. For this option, a patient's jawbone must be adequate and healthy enough to support at least four to six implants. A fixed denture is also often costlier and more complex than a removable denture, but it can feel more like real teeth. It also promotes better bone health too.
Although both options are more expensive than traditional dentures, they can pay dividends for long-term dental health. Implants could help you enjoy your new dentures and resulting smile for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on dental implant-supported restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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