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.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Getting a smile upgrade doesn’t necessarily require extensive dental work. You might be able to change your appearance for the better with teeth whitening.
This technique employs a bleaching solution that brightens dull enamel, the outermost layer of teeth. It isn’t a permanent fix, but if cared for properly your brighter smile could last two years or more.
Here’s what you need to know about this proven smile brightener.
Know your options. Enamel whitening is usually obtained in one of three ways: a dentist performing the procedure in-office; at home using custom trays created by a dentist; or at home with an over-the-counter whitening product. The in-office option is the most expensive—but since dentists use a stronger bleaching solution, your brighter tint may last longer and dentists can control the degree of whiteness better.
Know your preferences. That last point is important if you’re looking for a particular look. Teeth whitening can give you a dazzling “Hollywood” smile or one that’s a bit more subtle. It all depends on your lifestyle and personal preferences. Because of their advanced techniques and equipment, you may have better chances getting the look you want from your dentist rather than by doing it yourself.
Know your limitations. This type of teeth whitening won’t work if the staining originates within the teeth—for that you’ll need an invasive procedure only a dentist can perform. You’ll also want to be careful with any whitening if you have dental work like crowns, veneers or fillings: the bleaching solution won’t alter these materials’ color, which could make them stand out beside whitened natural teeth. And if you have diseased teeth and gums, those need to be treated first before any cosmetic procedures like whitening.
Teeth whitening is a great way to take years off a smile. Even if you plan to whiten your teeth at home see your dentist first for a complete examination and helpful tips on products and techniques.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Important Teeth Whitening Question…Answered!”
Root canal treatments have suffered a bad rap over the years—and undeservedly. While we applaud root canal therapy for the millions of decayed teeth the procedure has saved, the worn-out cliché that it's painful still lingers on.
So, let's set the record straight: a root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it most often relieves it. Let's look a little closer at what actually happens before, during and after this tooth-saving treatment.
Before: a tooth in crisis. Tooth decay can damage more than a tooth's outer enamel. This aggressive bacterial infection can work its way into a tooth's interior, destroying the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp, before moving on to the roots and supporting bone through the root canals. Untreated, this devastating process can lead to tooth loss. A root canal treatment, however, can stop the invading decay and save the tooth.
During: stopping the disease. The dentist first numbs the tooth and surrounding gum tissues with local anesthetic—the only thing you might normally feel during treatment is a slight pressure. They then drill into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals and remove all diseased tissue. Once the interior spaces of the tooth have been disinfected, the dentist then fills the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a pliable filling called gutta percha to prevent future infection.
After: preventing re-infection. With the filling complete, the dentist then seals the access hole. There may be some minor soreness for a few days, similar to the aftermath of a routine filling, which can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Sometime later, the dentist will normally finish the treatment with a new crown on the tooth. This accomplishes two things: It helps strengthen the tooth against stress fracturing and it provides another layer of protection against future decay.
Root canal treatments have an exceptional track record for giving diseased teeth a second chance. There's nothing to fear—and everything to gain for your troubled tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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