Millions of people are currently caring for an elderly family member. If that describes your family, then you know how overwhelming that responsibility can be at times.
A part of that responsibility is making sure they have healthy teeth and gums, a critical part of their overall well-being. But as with the rest of the body, teeth and gums can wear and become disease-prone as a person gets older. To further complicate things, an older adult may not be able to take care of their own oral health due to physical and cognitive decline.
Maintaining an older loved one's oral health is difficult, but not impossible. Here are 4 areas on which you should focus to ensure they have the healthiest teeth and gums possible.
Oral hygiene. It's important for all of us to avoid tooth decay and gum disease by brushing and flossing daily to remove bacterial plaque, the prime cause for dental disease. You can switch an older adult who is having trouble performing these tasks because of physical impairment to large handled toothbrushes or a water flosser to make things easier. In some cases, you may have to perform these tasks for them.
Dental visits. Dental cleanings at least twice a year further lower the risk of disease, especially in older adults. Regular dental visits are also important to monitor an older person's oral health, and to initiate treatment when the need arises. Catching dental disease early at any age improves outcomes.
Dental work. An older person may have various forms of dental work like fillings, crowns, bridges or dentures. Keeping them in top shape helps them maintain their oral health and protect any of their remaining teeth. Have their dental work checked regularly by a dentist, especially dentures that can lose their fit over time.
Oral cancer. Although not as prevalent as other forms, this deadly cancer does occur in higher rates among people over 65. Be sure, then, that an oral cancer screening is a component of your older family member's regular dental evaluations. And any time you notice a sore or other abnormality in their mouth, have it evaluated by their dentist as soon as possible.
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.”
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
If you think your smile is beyond hope, you might be in for a happy surprise: Today's dental cosmetics can improve even the most forlorn dental situation. It could be a one-visit tooth whitening—or a total “smile makeover.”
If it's the latter, your transformation journey could take months or even years—so you need some idea of where this journey will take you. That will come through initial discussions with your dentist about your dreams and desires for a new smile.
But you'll also need to consider what your dental condition will practically allow: Although your goal is a more attractive appearance, the higher priority is your long-term dental health. There's also cost—dental enhancements can be expensive, so you may have to adjust your dream smile to match the reality of your finances.
With the big picture in focus, the next step is to refine the details of your makeover plan. Nothing does this better—for you and your dentist—than to “see” your proposed smile ahead of time. This is possible with computer technology: Your dentist can modify a digitized photo of your face and smile to show the proposed changes to your teeth and give you a reasonable view of your future smile.
Another way is to create a “trial smile.” Using composite dental material, your dentist fashions a temporary restoration that fits over your teeth. Unlike the digitally enhanced still photo, a trial smile let's you see what your new appearance will look like while moving, talking or smiling. Although it's removed before you leave the office, you can have photos taken to show friends and family.
You and your dentist can use these methods to make adjustments to your makeover plan before applying the real enhancements. It also eliminates any unpleasant surprises after all the work is done—you'll already know what your future smile will look like.
These initial steps are just as important as the actual procedures you'll undergo. Through careful planning, you'll gain a new smile that can improve your life.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
It's a common practice among people slowly losing their teeth to have their remaining teeth removed. They find dentures to be less costly than replacing one tooth at a time or caring for those that remain. On the other hand, it's usually healthier for the mouth to preserve remaining teeth as long as possible, replacing them only as necessary.
This latter strategy has up to now been difficult and expensive to achieve. But dental implants are changing that—using these imbedded titanium metal devices with a variety of restorations, we're able to better plan and implement staged tooth replacement.
Most people associate implants with single tooth replacements of a life-like crown cemented or screwed into an abutment attached to the implant post. This can play an early role in a staged replacement plan, but at some point, multiple single-tooth implants can become quite expensive.
Implants, however, have a much broader range of use. A few strategically placed implants can support a variety of restorations, including bridges and removable or fixed dentures. Four to eight implants, for example, can secure a fixed denture replacing all teeth on a jaw, far fewer than the number needed to replace the teeth individually.
Implants may also improve the function of traditional restorations. For instance, dentures can't stop the bone loss that often results from tooth loss—in fact, they will accelerate it as they rub and irritate the bony ridges of the jaw. By contrast, implants stimulate bone growth, slowing or even stopping the process of bone loss.
In a traditional bridge, the outer crowns of the restoration are bonded to the teeth on either side of the missing tooth gap (the middle crowns fill the gap). These support teeth must be permanently altered to accommodate the crowns. But an implant-supported bridge doesn't depend on other teeth for support, thus eliminating the need to permanently alter any teeth.
More importantly, previously placed implants often become part of the next stages of tooth replacement, like building on an addition onto an existing house. All in all, including implants in your ongoing dental restoration can help you enjoy the benefits of preserving your natural teeth for much longer.
If you would like more information on dental restoration options, 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 “Replacing All Teeth but Not All at Once.”
A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
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