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.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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.”
There's a lot to like about porcelain veneers, especially as you get older. For one, they can be less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic restorations. More importantly, though, they're versatile—they can solve a variety of dental appearance problems.
Veneers are thin shells of porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to alter their appearance—a work of custom art crafted by a dental technician to fit an individual patient's dental needs. They can turn back the clock on a less than attractive smile, and, with a little care, could last for years.
Here are some dental appearance problems you might encounter in your later years that veneers may help you improve.
Discoloration. As we get older, our teeth color can change—and not for the better. Teeth whitening temporarily brightens dull and dingy teeth, but the effect will fade over time. Additionally, there are some forms of staining, particularly those arising from within a tooth, for which external whitening can't help. Veneers can mask discoloration and give a new, permanent shine to teeth.
Unattractive shape. As we age, wearing on teeth can cause them to appear shorter and create sharper angles around the edges. Veneers can be used to restore length and soften the shape of teeth. Because veneers can be customized, we can actually create a tooth shape that you believe will improve your appearance.
Dental flaws. A lifetime of biting and chewing, not to mention a chance injury, can lead to chips, cracks or other dental defects. But veneers can cover over unsightly flaws that cause you to be less confident in your smile. Veneers can give you back the smile you once had or, if you were born with dental flaws, the smile you never had.
Misalignments. The biting forces we encounter throughout our lifetime can move teeth out of alignment, or widen gaps between them. You can undergo orthodontic treatment to correct these misalignments problems, but if they're relatively minor, we may be able to use veneers to “straighten” your smile.
If you're concerned about the effects of aging on your smile, veneers could help you look younger. Visit us for a full dental evaluation to see if a veneer restoration is right for you.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and for good reason—it's your teeth's first line of defense against wearing and harmful oral bacteria. But although enamel can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” it can lose its mineral content, soften and eventually erode to expose the teeth to bacteria.
Here are 4 tips for protecting your enamel so it keeps on protecting you.
Practice sound brushing techniques. Brushing is necessary for removing bacterial plaque that can trigger dental disease. But how you brush could prove not only ineffective, but also harmful to your enamel. So, be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces, but not too forcefully or too often (twice a day is enough)—otherwise, you could wear down enamel and damage your gums.
Wait to brush after eating. The acid levels in the mouth go up during eating, causing an immediate softening of enamel. But saliva then goes to work neutralizing acid and helping to restore enamel's mineral content. Since it takes saliva about thirty minutes to an hour to complete this task, wait on brushing at least that long. Otherwise, you might remove tiny traces of temporarily softened enamel.
Avoid eating right before bed. While we sleep, our saliva flow decreases until we wake up. If you eat just before bed, you may not be giving your saliva enough time to neutralize acid before it “goes to sleep” with you for the night. So, give your saliva ample time to neutralize any remaining acid by not eating anymore at least an hour before you turn in.
Limit drinking acidic beverages. Some of our favorite drinks—sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even some juices—can be high in acid. To protect your enamel, reduce your consumption of these types of beverages in favor of water or milk (the calcium in the latter will also benefit your enamel). When you do drink acidic beverages, use a straw to minimize contact of the fluid with your enamel.
Healthy and strong enamel is the key to healthy and strong teeth. It's worth taking these steps to protect this important defense against destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on personal dental care, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
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