While some aspects of regular dental visits are much the same for everyone, they can be more involved for an older adult. That’s because people later in life face an increased risk of dental disease and other age-related issues.
If you’re a caregiver for an older adult, you’ll want to be aware of these heightened risks. Here are 4 areas of concern we may check during their next regular dental visit.
Oral cancer. While it can occur at any age, cancer is more prevalent among older adults. Although rarer than other cancers, oral cancer’s survival rate is a dismal 50% after five years. This is because the disease is difficult to detect early or is misidentified as other conditions. To increase the odds of early detection (and better survival chances) we may perform a cancer screening during the visit.
Dental disease. The risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease also increase with age. A primary risk factor for older people is a lack of adequate saliva (the mouth’s natural disease fighter) often caused by medications or systemic conditions. We’ll watch carefully for any signs of disease, as well as assess their individual risk factors (including medications) for decreased oral health.
Dentures. If they wear dentures, we’ll check the appliance’s fit. While dentures can wear with use, the fit may also grow loose due to continuing bone loss in the jaw, a downside of denture wearing. We’ll make sure they still fit comfortably and aren’t stressing the gums or supporting teeth. It may be necessary to reline them or consider replacing them with a new set.
Oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing are just as important for older adults as for younger people for preventing dental disease, but often more difficult due to mental or physical impairment. We can note areas of bacterial plaque buildup and recommend ways to improve their hygiene efforts.
Depending on how well your older adult can care for themselves, it may be advisable for you to come with them when they visit us. Our dental team can provide valuable information and advice to help you help them have a healthier mouth.
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.”
You might think David Copperfield leads a charmed life:Â He can escape from ropes, chains, and prison cells, make a Learjet or a railroad car disappear, and even appear to fly above the stage. But the illustrious illusionist will be the first to admit that making all that magic takes a lot of hard work. And he recently told Dear Doctor magazine that his brilliant smile has benefitted from plenty of behind-the-scenes dental work as well.
“When I was a kid, I had every kind of [treatment]. I had braces, I had headgear, I had rubber bands, and a retainer afterward,” Copperfield said. And then, just when his orthodontic treatment was finally complete, disaster struck. “I was at a mall, running down this concrete alleyway, and there was a little ledge… and I went BOOM!”
Copperfield’s two front teeth were badly injured by the impact. “My front teeth became nice little points,” he said. Yet, although they had lost a great deal of their structure, his dentist was able to restore those damaged teeth in a very natural-looking way. What kind of “magic” did the dentist use?
In Copperfield’s case, the teeth were repaired using crown restorations. Crowns (also called caps) are suitable when a tooth has lost part of its visible structure, but still has healthy roots beneath the gum line. To perform a crown restoration, the first step is to make a precise model of your teeth, often called an impression. This allows a replacement for the visible part of the tooth to be fabricated, and ensures it will fit precisely into your smile. In its exact shape and shade, a well-made crown matches your natural teeth so well that it’s virtually impossible to tell them apart. Subsequently, the crown restoration is permanently attached to the damaged tooth.
There’s a blend of technology and art in making high quality crowns — just as there is in some stage-crafted illusions. But the difference is that the replacement tooth is not just an illusion: It looks, functions and “feels” like your natural teeth… and with proper care it can last for many years to come.Â Besides crowns, there are several other types of tooth restorations that are suitable in different situations. We can recommend the right kind of “magic” for you.
If you would like more information about crowns, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
The reason for extracting a tooth may be all too obvious — the tooth is too decayed or damaged to attempt saving. The reason for extracting a wisdom tooth, on the other hand, may not be so apparent: from the perspective of pain or reduced function, you may not notice a thing. Our recommendation to remove a wisdom tooth is based primarily on what may be occurring out of view below the gum line and its potential threat to adjacent teeth.
Teeth grow and develop below the gum line in the jaw, and then push their way through the gums as they appear in the mouth (eruption). After a normal eruption, the enamel-covered crown is visible above the gum line; the remaining tooth root (about two-thirds of the tooth’s length) resides below the gum line. Because wisdom teeth, or third molars, erupt rather late between ages 17 and 25, they may lack the room to erupt properly due to crowding from other teeth that have already erupted. This can cause the wisdom tooth not to erupt fully through the gums, leaving the crown trapped below the gum line, a condition known as impaction. For the tooth, impaction increases the chances of infection, cyst formation and gum disease around it.
An impacted wisdom tooth can also cause problems for the adjacent teeth as well. The impacted tooth may begin to press against the roots of other teeth; the resulting pressure can damage the other roots, increasing the risk for disease or future tooth loss. A person may not even know they have this problem since there’s often little to no noticeable pain or symptoms.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the best time to remove a wisdom tooth is when it’s not causing immediate problems. There will be, however, signs found during examination (particularly x-rays or CT scan) that future problems are in the making. By extracting an impacted wisdom tooth at the appropriate time, we can avoid more serious problems in the future and improve oral health.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and your oral 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 “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
We’ve come a long way since the early 1980s when we first identified the HIV virus. Although approximately 35 million people worldwide (including a million Americans) now have the virus, many are living relatively long and normal lives thanks to advanced antiretroviral drugs.
Still, HIV patients must remain vigilant about their health, especially their oral health. In fact, problems with the teeth, gums and other oral structures could be a sign the virus has or is moving into the full disease stage, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). That’s why you or a loved one with the virus should maintain regular dental checkups or see your dentist when you notice any oral abnormalities.
One of the most common conditions among HIV-positive patients is a fungal infection called candidiasis (or “thrush”). It may appear first as deep cracks at the corners of the mouth and then appear on the tongue and roof of the mouth as red lesions. The infection may also cause creamy, white patches that leave a reddened or bleeding surface when wiped.
HIV-positive patients may also suffer from reduced salivary flow. Because saliva helps neutralize excess mouth acid after we eat as well as limit bacterial growth, its absence significantly increases the risk of dental disease. One of the most prominent for HIV-positive patients is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection normally caused by dental plaque.
While gum disease is prevalent among people in general, one particular form is of grave concern to HIV-positive patients. Necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP) is characterized by spontaneous gum bleeding, ulcerations and a foul odor. The disease itself can cause loosening and eventually loss of teeth, but it’s also notable as a sign of a patient’s deteriorating immune system. The patient should not only undergo dental treatment (including antibiotics), but also see their primary care physician for updates in treating and managing their overall symptoms.
Above all, HIV-positive patients must be extra diligent about oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing. Your dentist may also recommend other measures like saliva stimulators or chlorhexidine mouthrinses to reduce the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Together, you should be able to reduce the effects of HIV-induced teeth and gum problems for a healthier mouth and better quality of life.
If you would like more information on oral care for HIV-AIDS patients, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
Each November, the American Cancer Society urges smokers to kick the habit for just one day, because if you can quit for one whole day, you can quit for another whole day. Put enough whole days back to back and you’re no longer a smoker!
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. It harms nearly every organ of the body, causing lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, as well as cancer of the lung, kidney and bladder.
Smoking also causes problems in your mouth. Aside from the more obvious problems of bad breath and yellowed teeth, smoking raises the risk of cancer of the mouth and throat. It can increase the buildup of plaque and tartar, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. Smoking interferes with healing, so treatments may not work as well. The majority of smokers have gum disease and they are more likely to lose teeth from advanced gum disease.
Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing you can do for your health. Who wouldn’t want fresher breath, younger-looking skin and a better sense of taste and smell?
Even for people who have smoked for a long time, the effects of smoking start to reverse themselves when you quit. Your heart rate, blood pressure and carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal shortly after quitting. Studies are showing that in just one year, the risk for heart disease is cut in half. 10 years later the risk of oral cancer is about equal to that of a nonsmoker. In 15 years, the risk of heart disease is the same as for a nonsmoker.
Need help quitting? Talk with your dentist or doctor. You can also visit the American Cancer Society website. If you have any questions about smoking and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
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