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.”
Eating is like breathing: We often do it without much thought. But if you suffer from chronic jaw pain, every bite can get your attention—and not in a good way. What's worse, in an effort to avoid the pain associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) you might make less than nutritious food choices.
But there are ways to eat healthy without aggravating the symptoms of TMD—not just your choices of food, but also how you prepare and actually eat the food. Here are 4 tips that can help you manage eating with TMD.
Choose moist foods in sauces or gravy. A lot of chewing action is intended to mix saliva with tough or dry foods to make them easier to digest. But this extra jaw action can irritate the jaw joints and muscles and increase your discomfort. To help reduce your jaws' work load, choose foods with a high moisture content, or cook them in a sauce or gravy.
Peel foods with skin. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, but their tough outer skin or peel is often hard to chew. Although these parts may also contain nutrients, removing them allows you to gain most of the nutritional benefit of the food while making it easier to chew it.
Cut foods into bite-size pieces. A lot of discomfort with TMD occurs with having to open the jaws wide to accommodate large pieces of food. To minimize the amount of jaw opening, take time to cut all your food portions down into smaller pieces. Doing so can help you avoid unnecessary discomfort.
Practice deliberate eating. All of us can benefit from slower, more methodical eating, but it's especially helpful for someone with TMD. By chewing deliberately and slowly and doing your best to limit jaw opening, you can enhance your comfort level.
Eating often becomes an arduous task for someone with TMD that increases pain and stress. But practicing these tips can make your dining experience easier—and more enjoyable.
If you would like more information on managing TMD in everyday life, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral 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.”
Unlike our primitive ancestors, our teeth have it relatively easy. Human diets today are much more refined than their counterparts from thousands of years ago. Ancient teeth recovered from those bygone eras bear that out, showing much more wear on average than modern teeth.
Even so, our modern teeth still wear as we age—sometimes at an accelerated rate. But while you can't eliminate wearing entirely, you can take steps to minimize it and preserve your teeth in your later years. Here are 3 things you can do to slow your teeth's wearing process.
Prevent dental disease. Healthy teeth endure quite well even while being subjected to daily biting forces produced when we eat. But teeth weakened by tooth decay are more susceptible to wear. To avoid this, you should practice daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And see your dentist at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
Straighten your bite. A poor bite, where the top and bottom teeth don't fit together properly, isn't just an appearance problem—it could also cause accelerated tooth wear. Having your bite orthodontically corrected not only gives you a new smile, it can also reduce abnormal biting forces that are contributing to wear. And don't let age stop you: except in cases of bone deterioration or other severe dental problems, older adults whose gums are healthy can undergo orthodontics and achieve healthy results.
Seek help for bruxism. The term bruxism refers to any involuntary habit of grinding teeth, which can produce abnormally high biting forces. Over time this can increase tooth wear or weaken teeth to the point of fracture or other severe damage. While bruxism is uncommon in adults, it's still a habit that needs to be addressed if it occurs. The usual culprit is high stress, which can be better managed through therapy or biofeedback. Your dentist can also fashion you a custom guard to wear that will prevent upper and lower teeth from wearing against each other.
If you would like more information on minimizing teeth wear, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
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