A focus on dental care in senior citizens is just as important as it is for children. Indeed, oral health in your later years can be a major factor in your quality of life.
For one, aging effects on other parts of the body can make dental care more challenging. Some hygiene tasks once performed easily become harder — arthritis, for example, or loss of muscle strength may make it difficult to hold a toothbrush or floss. In such cases, you may need to find new ways to make the task easier: a power toothbrush with a larger handle; pre-loaded floss holders or a water flosser; or adaptations to a manual brush to make it easier to hold, like attaching a tennis ball or bike handle.
Other age-related conditions — and their treatments — can negatively impact oral health. Less saliva production, which is a consequence of aging or certain drugs, increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Older adults often develop gastric reflux problems that can introduce tooth enamel-eroding stomach acid into the mouth. And medications called bisphosphonates, often prescribed to treat osteoporosis, may interfere in rare cases with bone healing after tooth extraction or similar procedures.
Prior dental work can also prove challenging to treating dental disease. It becomes more difficult to preserve teeth threatened with decay if there are significant restorations or appliances to work around. Pain perception can also diminish with age, so that dental disease may not be noticed until later stages when significant damage has already occurred.
Oral care requires more attention as we grow older, or as we care for older family members. Your best defense against disease is to continue regular six-month visits with us. In addition to normal cleanings and checkups, we’ll also screen for oral cancer (a more prevalent occurrence in older adults), review your prescriptions or other supplements and medications for any possible side effects to oral health, check the fit of any dentures or other restorations and evaluate the effectiveness of your hygiene.
While other age-related conditions may capture the majority of your attention, you shouldn’t allow that to neglect your dental care. With your continued efforts, along with our support and your family’s, you can continue to enjoy good oral health throughout your lifetime.
For people with edentulism (total loss of teeth), removable dentures is a viable option for regaining both lost function and an attractive appearance. From the moment they begin wearing them, denture wearers can chew food, speak and smile with confidence.
But there are downsides to dentures, especially if they’re not cared for properly. Dentures put pressure on the gums and bony ridges of the jaw, which can cause bone to dissolve (resorb) and decrease its volume over time. Without proper maintenance they can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that not only lead to bad breath but, in cases of partial dentures, can increase the risk of dental disease. They could also contribute to serious systemic diseases.
You can reduce some of these risks by following these 3 important denture maintenance tips. Doing so will help extend the life of your dentures, as well as keep your mouth healthy.
Clean your dentures at least once a day. In addition to taking your dentures out and rinsing them with water after eating, you should also brush them daily with dish detergent, antibacterial soap or denture cleaner — but not toothpaste, which is too abrasive. Effervescent (fizzing) cleaning tablets also aren’t a viable substitute for manual brushing in removing disease-causing plaque from denture surfaces.
Take your dentures out at night while you sleep. Wearing dentures 24/7 can hasten bone loss, as well as increase your chances of dental disease or even more serious illnesses. A recent study, for example, found nursing home patients who left their dentures in at night were twice as likely to experience serious complications from pneumonia as those who didn’t. While you sleep, store your dentures in water or in a solution of alkaline peroxide made for this purpose.
Brush your gums and tongue every day. Keeping your gum surfaces clean will help reduce the levels of bacteria and other microbes that can cause disease. You can either use an extra-soft tooth brush (not the one you use to clean your dentures) or a damp washcloth.
Good nutrition is vital for maintaining health and preventing disease, especially for your mouth. A diet rich in whole foods — fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy products — and low in sugar will not only promote strong teeth and gums, but lessen your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Diet is also a prominent factor in reducing the risk for another serious mouth disease — oral cancer. While oral cancer makes up only 3% of total cancer cases reported annually, the five-year survival rate is a sobering 50%, much lower than for other types of common cancers. While genetics plays a role in your susceptibility to oral cancer, lifestyle choices and practices present the greater risk factors for the disease.
Of these lifestyle factors, refraining from tobacco products, moderating your alcohol consumption and avoiding risky sexual behavior are of primary importance in reducing your cancer risk. With that said, you should also take into account the foods that are part of your daily diet — both what you should and shouldn’t eat. As an example of the latter, some foods contain a class of chemicals known as nitrosamines that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). One such chemical, nitrite, is used as a preservative in meats like bacon or ham, and may also be found in beer, and seafood products.
On the positive side, your diet should be rich in foods that supply antioxidants, substances that protect the body’s cells from damaging, unstable molecules known as free radicals. The best sources for antioxidants (more so than dietary supplements) are plant foods rich in fiber and vitamins C and E. Eating more of these may also reduce your intake of nitrates, animal fat and saturated fat.
Adopting a moderate, nutritious diet, along with exercise, can have a huge positive impact on your general health and quality of life. Along with other lifestyle changes, better dietary choices can also help ensure a healthy mouth and reduce your risk of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on the role of nutrition in reducing your risk of 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.”
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.”
First introduced in the 1980s, dental implants are a popular and reliable tooth replacement option. Numerous studies show that after ten years 95% are still in place. Much of this success owes to the implant’s titanium post imbedded directly into the jaw, which then attracts bone growth. This additional growth securely anchors the implant in place for an unrivaled durability among other replacement options.
Still, a small percentage of implants fail — some in the first few months and others after a few years. Here are 3 reasons why, and how you can overcome them.
Poor bone quantity and quality. Implants need a certain amount of existing bone to succeed. Sometimes, though, there isn’t enough because prolonged absence of a tooth causes bone loss around the empty socket. Conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis or tobacco use can also compromise bone health. It’s often possible to increase bone volume with grafting, especially right after tooth extraction.
Teeth grinding habits. This occurs when you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth, usually during sleep. The habit can create forces far in excess of what’s normal when we bite or chew and can damage or even break the crown attached to an implant. Besides reducing stress (a major factor for teeth grinding), you can also alleviate the abnormal force generated by wearing a night guard.
Periodontal (gum) disease. Although your implants are impervious to disease or infection, supporting gums and bone aren’t. Plaque, a film of food and bacteria that builds up on tooth surfaces, can cause gum disease that weakens the supporting tissues (gums and bone) of the implant. This can give rise to a specific condition with implants known as peri-implantitis where the infected gum tissues and bone around it deteriorate, leading to the implant’s catastrophic loss. To avoid this, practice consistent daily hygiene, including around the implant. And see us regularly for checkups and cleanings, or as soon as possible if you see signs of gum problems.
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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
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