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.”
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Nothing beats the form and function of a real tooth—but dental implants come pretty close. That's why they're tops among both dentists and patients for replacing missing teeth.
Much of an implant's functionality and durability can be credited to its material construction, from the titanium metal post imbedded in the jawbone to the lifelike porcelain crown attached at its other end. But an implant's “nuts and bolts” isn't the only reason why this premier dental restoration is so popular: A good portion of their success comes from the adjunct support provided by digital technology.
Without this varied array of computer-based applications used in planning, designing and installing them, implants couldn't produce the level of satisfactory outcomes they currently do. Here then are a few of the high-tech tools dentists use to make sure your implants result in a winning smile.
CBCT scanning. Implant placement requires a high degree of precision often complicated by various anatomical structures like nerves, blood vessels and sinuses within the gums and jaws. Cone Beam Computer Tomography (CBCT) scanners rotate around a patient's head, taking hundreds of digital x-ray images that are then assembled into a 3-D model image. Dentists can view this model from various angles to identify obstacles and better pinpoint the best implant locations.
Digital impressions. Dentists can also create a 3-D digital impression model of the inside of a patient's mouth that can give them views of their current teeth and gums from any angle. This aids in determining the size and type of implant so that it blends seamlessly with remaining teeth. A digital impression can also provide both the dentist and patient a preview appearance of their future smile after treatment.
3-D printed surgical guides. To accurately drill the implant site during surgery, dentists often create a custom-made device called a surgical guide that fits into the patient's mouth during the procedure. Using results from scanning and digital impressions, highly accurate guides can be created with a 3-D printer. This further ensures that the implant will be in the exact best location for the most attractive and functional outcome.
Implantology is as much art as it is science in achieving a beautiful smile. These and other digital tools help make that desirable end a reality.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Around 20 million people—mostly women after menopause—take medication to slow the progress of osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that weakens bones. But although effective, some osteoporosis drugs could pose dental issues related to the jawbones.
Osteoporosis causes the natural spaces that lie between the mineral content of bone to grow larger over time. This makes the bone weaker and unable to withstand forces it once could, which significantly increases the risk of fracture. A number of drugs have been developed over time that stop or slow this disease process.
Two of the most prominent osteoporosis drugs are alendronate, known also by its trade name Fosamax, and denosumab or Prolia. While originating from different drug families, alendronate and denosumab work in a similar way by destroying specialized bone cells called osteoclasts that break down worn out bone and help dissolve it. By reducing the number of these cells, more of the older bone that would have been phased out lasts longer.
In actuality this only offers a short-term benefit in controlling osteoporosis. The older bone isn’t renewed but only preserved, and will eventually become fragile and more prone to fracture. After several years the tide turns negatively for the bone’s overall health. It’s also possible, although rare, that the bone simply dies in a condition called osteonecrosis.
The jawbones are especially susceptible to osteonecrosis. Forces generated by chewing normally help stimulate jawbone growth, but the medications in question can inhibit that stimulus. As a result the jawbone can diminish and weaken, making eventual tooth loss a real possibility.
Osteonecrosis is most often triggered by trauma or invasive dental procedures like tooth extractions or oral surgery. For this reason if you’re taking either alendronate and denosumab and are about to undergo a dental procedure other than routine cleaning, filling or crown-work, you should speak to your physician about suspending your medication temporarily. Dentists often recommend a suspension of three to nine months before the procedure and three months afterward.
Some research indicates this won’t worsen your osteoporosis symptoms, especially if you substitute another treatment or fortify your skeletal system with calcium and vitamin D supplements. But taking this temporary measure could help protect your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on the effect of osteoporosis treatment 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Most of us think of insurance as a means to protect us and our families from unforeseen loss. While that’s the general definition, some insurance plans — like dental — don’t quite work that way.
The typical dental plan actually works more like a discount coupon for dental services. Most are part of an employer-based benefit package and usually “fee-for-service”: the insurance company pays for part or sometimes the entire bill after your dental visit based on a fee schedule laid out in the policy.
A plan’s benefits depend on what the insurer offers to cover and what level of coverage your employer (or you) are willing to pay for. Typically, the more items covered under the policy, the higher the premium. Any deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before receiving any plan benefits) can also affect the premium — the lower the deductible, the higher the premium.
The benefits may also be limited due to what a patient’s dentist charges for services. Most insurers pay benefits based on what they determine to be the “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee for a particular service. The dentist’s fees are most often higher, however, resulting in the patient paying a higher percentage of the bill.
Still, a dental plan can work to your financial advantage, especially if it’s employer-based with premiums paid by your employer. It may not be advantageous, however, if you’re paying the premiums. For example, a person without insurance might spend on average $200 a year for basic dental care (mostly preventative — checkups and cleanings), while a person with insurance may have those expenses covered, but are paying yearly premiums of $500 or more for the plan.
You should also consider one other factor: our first priority as dentists is to pursue the best course of treatment for your particular dental needs, which may not always align with what your policy covers. At the same time, we understand the limitations you may be under with your plan — we work in this world every day. We’ll certainly assist you in navigating the insurance waters to achieve the best care for what you can afford.
If you would like more information on dental insurance and other financial arrangements, 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 Insurance 101.”
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