Posts for category: Oral Health
By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Kids get pretty inventive pulling a loose primary (baby) tooth. After all, there's a profit motive involved (aka the Tooth Fairy). But a young Kansas City Chiefs fan may have topped his peers with his method, revealed in a recent Twitter video that went viral.
Inspired by all-star KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes (and sporting his #15 jersey), 7-year-old Jensen Palmer tied his loose tooth to a football with a line of string. Then, announcing “This is how an MVP gets their tooth out,” the next-gen QB sent the ball flying, with the tooth tailing close behind.
It appears young Palmer was no worse for wear with his tooth removal technique. But if you're thinking there might be a less risky, and less dramatic, way to remove a loose tooth, you're right. The first thing you should know, though: Primary teeth come out when they're good and ready, and that's important. Primary teeth play an important role in a child's current dental and speech function and their future dental development. For the latter, they serve as placeholders for permanent teeth developing within the gums. If one is lost prematurely, the corresponding permanent tooth might erupt out of position and cause bite problems.
In normal development, though, a primary tooth coming out coincides closely with the linked permanent tooth coming in. When it's time, the primary tooth lets you know by becoming quite loose in the socket.
If you think one of your children's primary teeth is ready, clean your hands first with soap and water. Then using a clean tissue, you should be able to easily wiggle the tooth with little tension. Grasp the tooth with the tissue and give it a little horizontal twist to pop it out. If that doesn't work, wait a day or two before trying again. If it does come out, be sure you have some clean gauze handy in case of bleeding from the empty socket.
Normally, nature takes its course from this point. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs like fragments of the tooth left behind in the socket (not to be mistaken for the top of the permanent tooth coming in). You should also look for redness, swelling or complaints of pain the following day—signs of possible infection. If you see anything like this, make a prompt appointment so we can take a look. Losing a primary tooth is a signpost pointing the way from childhood to adulthood (not to mention a windfall for kids under their pillows). You can help make it a smooth transition—no forward pass required.
If you would like more information about caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt like your mouth was filled with cotton? We've all had bouts of occasional dry mouth, but the unpleasantness usually goes away after we eat or drink something.
But what if you have dry mouth all the time? In that case, it's more than unpleasant—it could be increasing your risk of dental disease. That's because your dry mouth symptoms are being caused by a lack of adequate saliva. Besides providing antibodies to fight harmful bacteria, saliva also neutralizes mouth acid that can cause tooth decay.
Your decrease in saliva could be caused by smoking or moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. It could also be a side effect of medications you're taking, one reason why older people, who on average take more prescription drugs than other age groups, have a high incidence of dry mouth.
So, what can you do to alleviate chronic dry mouth?
Watch what you eat and drink. Certain foods and beverages can worsen chronic dry mouth. Try to avoid or limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea or soft drinks, as well as salty or spicy foods.
If you use tobacco, quit. Tobacco, especially smoking, can dry out your mouth, as well as damage your salivary glands. Abstaining from tobacco can alleviate dry mouth and help prevent dental disease.
Drink more water. Simply drinking water ensures your body has an ample supply for producing saliva. It's also beneficial for your dental health in general, as it can help buffer your mouth's acid levels and rinse away food remnants that could become food for bacteria.
Speak to your doctor. If you suspect a drug that you're taking may be causing dry mouth, discuss with your doctor alternative medications that may minimize this side effect. Simply changing prescriptions could alleviate your dry mouth symptoms.
You can also try saliva stimulants, both over-the-counter and prescription, to help your mouth produce more saliva. And be sure you also keep up daily habit of brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial plaque and lower your risk of dental disease.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on 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.”