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.”
Two important practices boost your protection from dental disease: twice-a-year dental visits; and daily brushing and flossing. Of the two, that second one could be the most important.
Personal oral hygiene cleans the teeth of dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on them each day. This plaque buildup is the number one cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so removing it reduces your risk of an infection.
But it's not just a matter of doing these tasks—it's also doing them well. A quick once-over isn't going to have the same preventive power as a more thorough job.
Here then are 4 tips for improving your daily oral hygiene efforts.
Time yourself brushing. It usually takes about two minutes to thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces. So, set a timer for two minutes, focusing on methodically brushing the front, back and biting surfaces of each tooth.
Easy does it. Brushing teeth requires only a gentle bit of manual force as the mild abrasives and detergents in your toothpaste provide most of the action of loosening plaque. In fact, aggressive brushing can lead to enamel and gum damage. Practice gentle scrubbing action when you brush.
Don't neglect flossing. While brushing gets most of the hygienic attention, it can't effectively get to areas between teeth where over half of built-up plaque can accumulate. Be sure then to floss at least once a day to remove plaque between teeth that brushing can miss.
Test yourself. Your dentist may be the ultimate judge for the quality of your hygiene, but you can check your effectiveness between visits. For instance, run your tongue across your teeth—it should feel smooth, not rough or gritty. Using a plaque disclosing agent periodically can also reveal missed plaque.
And don't forget to keep up your regular dental visits, which are necessary for removing plaque you might have missed or tartar that may have formed. They're also a great time to get advice from your dentist or dental hygienist on how you can further improve your own efforts in daily dental care.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining 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.”
Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.
Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.
Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.
Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.
To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.
Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.
It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.
And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.
We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.
If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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