Entering your “sunset” years doesn't mean you're washed up—you still have a lot to offer the world. That's why the theme for this May's Older Americans Month (sponsored by the Administration for Community Living) is “Make Your Mark.” And to really make that difference, you'll have to maintain your health—including protecting your teeth from loss.
Once upon a time, it was considered the norm for older adults to experience tooth loss and the resulting consequences on their overall well-being. Today, though, not only can advanced restorations lessen the impact of lost teeth, it's also more likely that you can keep your teeth intact for the rest of your life.
To give your teeth their best chance for survival in your later years, here are 3 things you can do to promote their continuing health.
Brush and floss every day. Ridding your teeth of disease-causing plaque on a daily basis is important at any age, but perhaps even more so as you get older. However, hand weakness caused by arthritis or another health condition can make it more difficult to brush and floss. It may help to use a larger-handled toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, and a threading device may help with flossing. If manual flossing is still too difficult, you can try a water flosser that emits a water stream to loosen and flush plaque away.
Relieve chronic dry mouth. Older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth because of increased use of medications, many of which interfere with saliva flow. It's more than an unpleasant feeling: Deprived of the protective properties of saliva, your mouth is at increased risk of dental disease. If dry mouth is a problem for you, speak with your doctor about alternatives to any saliva-inhibiting medications you're taking. Also, drink more water and use saliva boosters to promote better saliva flow.
Keep up dental visits. Regular dental visits become even more important as you age. Dental cleanings are especially necessary, particularly if you have dental work that can interfere with plaque removal during brushing and flossing. Disease monitoring and screening are more in-depth for older adults who are more prone to tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. And if you wear dentures, you should have them checked regularly for fit and overall condition.
If you've already enjoyed decades of dedicated dental care, you need only stay the course. But even if you haven't, adopting new dental care habits now can boost your teeth's health and longevity. To get started, make an appointment with us: We'll assess your current dental health and offer a care strategy for keeping your teeth healthy through the next exciting season of your life.
If you would like more information about dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Gum recession is a serious oral condition in which the gums shrink back or “recede” from their normal position around the teeth. Because they're the primary protection for teeth below the enamel, this can expose the teeth to infection or cause painful sensitivity. And receded gums most certainly can diminish your smile.
But there are preventive measures you can adopt that might help you avoid this unpleasant condition. Here are 4 things you can do to minimize your risk for gum recession.
Practice daily oral hygiene. The main cause for recession is gum disease, a bacterial infection that weakens gum attachment to teeth. Gum disease usually arises from dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Removing it every day with brushing and flossing minimizes the risk of gum disease and gum recession.
But don't overdo it. Although brushing is key to keeping your mouth healthy, too hard and too often can damage your gums and lead to recession. A little “elbow grease” may be appropriate for other cleaning tasks, but not your teeth—use gentle strokes and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the main removal work. And avoid brushing more than twice a day.
See your dentist regularly. Your personal care efforts are a major part of preventing gum recession, but you can greatly increase the effect with professional dental care. That's because with even the best hygiene practice infections and other gum problems can still arise. You may also have inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents that increase your disease risk and bear closer monitoring.
Act quickly at the first signs of disease. Gum disease is a progressive disease, and it doesn't take long for it to become intrenched. The sooner it can be treated, the less likely you'll experience recession. So, make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice your gums are swollen, red or painful, or if they bleed easily after brushing.
There are ways to reverse gum recession. But many treatments like grafting surgery to regenerate new gum tissues can be quite involved and expensive. Following these tips can help you avoid gum recession altogether or stop it before it goes that far.
If you would like more information on how to avoid gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
If you’re considering a dental implant as a replacement for a lost tooth, you’re looking at a restoration method with an amazing 95% success rate after ten years. But that being said there’s still a risk, albeit quite low, the implant might fail.
And if you smoke, the risk is slightly higher. In a recent study of implant patients, twice as many of the failures occurred in smokers compared to non-smokers. If you’re a smoker, you can increase your chances of a successful outcome if you quit the habit.
Nicotine, a chemical within tobacco, is the primary cause for this higher risk. Besides its effect on the pleasure centers of the brain, nicotine also restricts smaller blood vessels that are abundant in the mouth and skin, causing less blood flow. As a result, the mouth doesn’t have as many antibodies and other substances available to fight infection and help traumatized tissues heal.
Because of this, as well as reduced saliva flow due to the habit, smokers have an increased risk of dental disease and are slower to respond to treatment. This can be especially problematic if the gum tissues around an implant become infected, which could lead to a catastrophic failure. Slower healing also impacts the post-surgery period when bone cells in the jaw are growing and adhering to the implant surface, forming a stronger bond.
To avoid these potential risks you should stop smoking before you undergo implant surgery. If you can’t completely kick the habit, you should at least stop a week before surgery and for two weeks after. It’s also critical that you practice good oral hygiene — both brushing and flossing — to minimize the occurrence of dental disease and see us for regular checkups and maintenance appointments.
Taking these steps will greatly increase your chances of being in the vast majority of people who continue to enjoy success with their implants for many years.
If you would like more information on the impact of smoking 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 “Dental Implants & Smoking.”
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