One thing’s for sure: We’re all getting older. Here’s another sure thing: Aging doesn’t necessarily look the same on everyone. That one spry octogenarian lapping younger folks on the track is all the proof you need. That’s why September has been designated Healthy Aging® Month: to remind everyone that aging well is an investment you make throughout your life—and that includes taking care of your dental health.
Just like the rest of the body, your teeth and gums are susceptible to the effects of aging. For example, after 50,000-plus meals (about 45 years’ worth), you can expect some teeth wear. A tooth-grinding habit, though, could accelerate that wear. If you think you’re grinding your teeth (especially at night), we can fit you with mouthguard worn while you sleep that reduces the force on your teeth. Managing your stress could also help reduce this involuntary habit.
Aging also increases your risk for the two most common dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Although different in the way they infect oral tissues, both can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss. Prevention is your best strategy—through daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to keep the dental plaque that fuels both diseases from building up on your teeth.
You should also see your dentist at the first sign of a toothache, unusual spots on the teeth and swollen or bleeding gums. These are all indicative of infection—and the sooner you’re diagnosed and treated, the more quickly you can return to optimum oral health.
Aging can bring other health conditions, and some of the medications to manage them could reduce your mouth’s saliva flow. Because saliva fights dental infections and helps restore enamel after acid attacks, “dry mouth” can increase your disease risk. If you’re noticing this, speak with your doctor about your medications, ask us about saliva boosters, and drink more water.
Finally, have any existing restorations checked regularly, especially dentures, which can lose their fit. Loose dentures may also be a sign of continuing bone loss in the jaw, a consequence of losing teeth. If so, consider dental implants: The design of this premier tooth restoration can help curb bone loss by encouraging new growth.
There’s a lot to keep up with health-wise if you want your senior years to be full of vim and vigor. Be sure your teeth and gums are part of that upkeep.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health as you age, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless” and “Dry Mouth: Causes and Treatment for This Common Problem.”
One of the key elements in a child’s development is their first set of teeth. Although primary (“baby”) teeth last only a few years, they’re critically important for enabling a child to eat solid foods, speak and smile.
But they also provide one more important benefit—they hold the space in the jaw reserved for the permanent teeth developing just under the gums until they erupt. But if a child loses a primary tooth prematurely because of disease or injury, other teeth may drift into the vacant space and crowd it out for the intended permanent tooth. It may then come in misaligned or remain stuck within the gums (impaction).
To avoid this, we try to treat and preserve a diseased primary tooth if at all practical. For a primary molar, one of the large teeth in the back of the mouth, this might include capping it with a stainless steel crown.
Why a metal crown? Primary molars normally don’t fall out until around ages 10-12, so it may be years for a younger child before their permanent molars erupt. All during that time these particular teeth will encounter heavier biting forces than teeth in the front.
A steel crown is often the best solution for a molar given their longer lifespans and encountered biting forces. The crown’s metal construction can stand up to these forces while still protecting the tooth from re-infection from decay. And because molars are typically outside of the “smile zone” occupied by more visible front teeth, the crown’s metal appearance isn’t usually an aesthetic issue.
Crowning a molar usually takes one visit, a dentist typically performing the procedure with local anesthesia and possibly a mild sedative like nitrous oxide gas (“laughing gas”). After removing any decayed structure from the tooth, the dentist will then fit a pre-formed crown over the remaining structure, sized and shaped to match the original tooth as close as possible.
A stainless steel crown is a cost-effective way to added needed years to a primary molar that could otherwise be lost prematurely. Preserving it may help a child avoid bite problems and expensive future treatments.
If you would like more information on dental care for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids: A Safe and Effective Way to Restore Primary Molars.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
Generations have depended on dentures to effectively and affordably replace lost teeth. But they do have a major weakness: They contribute to jawbone loss that creates not only mouth and facial problems, but can also ruin a denture’s fit.
Bone loss is a normal consequence of losing teeth. The biting forces normally generated when we chew stimulate new bone to replace older bone. When a tooth is missing, however, so is that chewing stimulation. This can slow bone replacement growth and gradually decrease the density and volume of affected bone.
While dentures can restore dental appearance and function, they can’t restore this growth stimulation. What’s worse, the pressure of the dentures against the gum-covered jaw ridge they rest upon may irritate the underlying bone and accelerate loss.
But there is a solution to the problem of denture-related bone loss: an implant-supported denture. Rather than obtaining its major support from the gum ridges, this new type of denture is secured by strategically-placed implants that connect with it.
Besides the enhanced support they can provide to a denture restoration, implants can also deter bone loss. This is because of the special affinity bone cells have with an implant’s imbedded titanium post. The gradual growth of bone on and around the implant surface not only boosts the implant’s strength and durability, it can also improve bone health.
There are two types of implant-supported dentures. One is a removable appliance that connects with implants installed in the jaw (three or more for the upper jaw or as few as two in the lower). It may also be possible to retrofit existing dentures to connect with implants.
The other type is a fixed appliance a dentist permanently installs by screwing it into anywhere from four and six implants. The fixed implant-supported denture is closer to the feel of real teeth (you’ll brush and floss normally), but it’s usually more costly than the removable implant-supported denture.
While more expensive than traditional ones, implant-supported dentures still cost less than other restorations like individual implant tooth replacements. They may also help deter bone loss, which may lead to a longer lasting fit with the dentures. Visit your dentist for an evaluation of your dental condition to see if you’re a good candidate for this advanced form of dental restoration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dentures, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Tooth decay is a destructive oral disease, which along with periodontal (gum) disease is most responsible for tooth loss. And as you age, your disease risk goes up.
One form of decay older people often experience is root cavities. Unlike those occurring in the visible crown, root cavities often occur below the gum line and are especially destructive to tooth structure.
That's because, unlike the crown protected by ultra-hard enamel, the roots are covered by a thin, mineralized material called cementum. Although cementum offers some protection, it can't compare with the decay-resistant capacity of enamel.
The roots also depend on gum coverage for protection. But unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or recede, usually due to gum disease or over-aggressive brushing, and expose some of the root surface. With only the cementum to protect them, the roots can become highly susceptible to decay. If a cavity forms here, it can rapidly advance into the tooth's interior, the pulp, weakening the tooth and increasing its risk of loss.
To stop the decay, we must treat root cavities much like we do with crown cavities: by removing any decayed structure and then filling the cavity. But root cavities are often more difficult to access depending on how far below the gum line they extend. We may need to perform minor gum surgery to expose the cavity to treat it.
But as with any form of tooth decay, the best strategy is to prevent root cavities in the first place. Your first line of defense is a daily hygiene habit of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the main cause for tooth decay. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year (or more, if recommended) for more thorough cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can also recommend or prescribe preventive rinses, or apply fluoride to at-risk tooth surfaces to strengthen them.
You should also be on the lookout for any signs of gum disease. If you see swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as possible. Stopping possible gum recession will further reduce your risk of root cavities.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay Near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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