Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to spotlight an often unsung group: individuals providing primary care for another family member. During November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes those caring for children with special needs or senior adults with life challenges—and part of that ongoing care includes watching out for their loved one's oral health.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy requires a concerted personal effort to prevent dental disease. While most of us can handle this on our own, some need assistance. If you're caring for someone like this, be sure you focus on two main areas: daily hygiene and regular dental visits. These are the two foundation stones for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
The relatively simple tasks of brushing and flossing are crucial for disease prevention—but they can pose a challenge for someone with diminished physical, mental or behavioral capacity. In some cases, you as a caregiver may have to perform the task for them.
But even someone with severe limitations may be able to do these tasks for themselves with some adaptations. For one, choose a place for brushing and flossing that's most comfortable for the person (not necessarily the bathroom) and keep to a routine schedule. Above all, approach the task in a positive and playful way, especially for children.
Choose a toothbrush and flosser that your loved one can easily handle. Flossers are also available with toothbrush-sized grips for those with less manual dexterity. An older person with arthritis may need an extra-large grip or a toothbrush modified with a bicycle handle. As an alternative, both children and older adults may benefit from using an electric toothbrush. Some special needs children can have a gag response to toothpaste, so you may wish to use less or substitute it with a diluted fluoride mouthwash on the brush.
Dry mouth is a concern among many older adults, often due to the medications they take. In fact, hundreds of medications can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva serves the important oral health function of washing away food debris and neutralizing acid in the mouth, but when saliva production is low, it is not only uncomfortable—it greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. To help with dry mouth, encourage your loved one to drink more water during the day and ask us to recommend a product that will boost their saliva production. You can also ask their physicians about drug alternatives without dry mouth side effects.
To make dental visits easier, be sure we know about any needs or conditions that might affect their care. If possible, accompany your older family member during their visit: Because health problems often increase with age, even routine visits may be more involved.
We understand that caring for family members who need assistance can be demanding, with needs often being prioritized. We urge you to keep dental care on the high-priority list—it could make a difference with the rest of their health and overall quality of life.
If you would like more information about oral care for a family member with special needs, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
Not long ago, the most affordable option for total tooth loss was a removable denture. Dentures, prosthetic (false) teeth set in gum-colored acrylic plastic bases, can effectively restore function and appearance. But the appliance continues to have one major drawback: it can accelerate bone loss in the jaw.
Like other living tissues, older bone cells die and become absorbed into the body (resorption). Normally they're replaced by newer cells. The forces generated when we chew our food travel through the teeth to stimulate this new growth. This stimulus ends when we lose our teeth, and so cell replacement can slow to an abnormal rate. Eventually, this causes bone loss.
Removable dentures can't provide this stimulation. In fact, the pressure generated as they compress the gums' bony ridges can even accelerate bone loss. That's why over time a denture's fit can become loose and uncomfortable — the bone has shrunk and no longer matches the contours of the dentures.
In recent years, though, a new development has been able to provide greater support to dentures while at the same time slowing or even stopping bone loss. We can now support dentures with dental implants.
Implants are best known as individual tooth replacements: a titanium metal post replaces the root, while a life-like porcelain crown attaches to the post to replace the visible tooth. In addition to providing a longer-lasting alternative to removable dentures, implants provide a very important health benefit: they improve bone density because they mimic the function of natural teeth. Bone cells are naturally attracted to the titanium; they adhere to the titanium post and are stimulated to grow through the action of chewing, increasing bone density and securing the implant's hold in the jaw.
Using the same technology we can support removable dentures, or even full fixed bridges. Rather than rest directly on the bony ridges, a denture can make a secure connection through a coupling system with just a few strategically placed implants. We can also permanently attach a full bridge by fastening it to a few implants with screws.
Not only do we eliminate the pressure from dentures compressing the gums and bone tissue, we can actually stimulate bone growth with the implants. Although more costly upfront than traditional dentures, unlike traditional dentures which must be replaced every five to seven years, long-lasting implants may be more cost-effective over the long-run.
If you would like more information on implant-supported tooth replacement, 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 “New Teeth in One Day.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
$9.1 billion: That's how much we Americans spent in 2018 on Halloween festivities, according to the National Retail Federation. And a sizeable chunk of that was for candy—a whopping 600 million pounds worth. That, my friends, is a lot of sugary goodness. For kids, it's what Halloween is all about—scoring a sack full of sticky, gooey, crunchy candy. For parents, though, all that sugar raises concerns for their kids' dental health.
That's because of something that loves sugar as much as little humans: oral bacteria. The more these microscopic creatures consume, the more they reproduce, which consequently leads to more mouth acid, a by-product of their digestion. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the mineral content in enamel and create the conditions for tooth decay.
To cut to the chase, excessive candy consumption increases the risk of tooth decay. Short of banning candy and ruining your kids' holiday fun, what then can you do to lower that risk this Halloween?
Here are a few tips:
Limit candy to mealtimes. The mouth's acid levels tend to rise while we're eating. The body counters with saliva, which has the capacity to neutralize acid and restore lost minerals to enamel. But if your kids are snacking on sweets over a long period, saliva can't get ahead of the recurring waves of acid. So, try to limit your kids' candy consumption to a few pieces at mealtimes only.
Don't brush right after eating candy. The short period during and after eating of high acid levels can still soften tooth enamel. If your child brushes soon after eating candy, they could also remove tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before brushing to allow saliva time to remineralize the enamel.
Encourage alternatives to candy as Halloween treats. While candy is a huge part of Halloween, it needn't have a monopoly on all the celebratory fun. So, encourage your little tricksters to accept—and their treaters to provide—other kinds of treats like small toys, glow sticks, or other items that count as treasure to children (be sure they're age-appropriate, though).
Halloween is a great time of family fun, and candy may always play a prominent role in the merriment. Just be sure to practice moderation with sweet Halloween treats to avoid dental problems down the road.
If you would like more information about how to manage your family's sugar consumption for optimum dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
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