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.”
You may think all crowns are alike—but there can be a world of difference between one crown and another. Getting the crown your dentist recommends and one that's satisfactory to you will depend on a number of factors, including what you'll ultimately have to pay.
Here are 3 things you need to know about crowns before undergoing a crown restoration.
Different materials. Although porcelain is the most life-like material used, earlier types of this glass-based material weren't strong enough to withstand biting forces, especially in back teeth. Years ago, all-metal crowns were most often used until the development of a hybrid porcelain crown with an inner metal substructure for strength. In recent years stronger all-porcelain crowns have risen in popularity. The material type that works best often depends on the tooth to be crowned—all-porcelain may work for a visible front incisor, but a porcelain-metal hybrid might be needed for a back molar.
Level of artistry. While new computer manufacturing systems allow dentists to produce patient crowns in-office, most still require the services and skills of a dental lab technician. The cost difference between crowns usually occurs at this juncture: the more life-like and customized the crown, the more artistry and time required by a technician to produce it. This can increase the cost of the crown.
Limited choices. While you and your dentist want your crown choice to be as individualized and life-like as possible, your dental insurance may limit your options. Many policies only provide benefits for the most basic crown restoration—enough to regain functionality and have an acceptable, but not always the most aesthetic, appearance. To get a higher quality of crown you may have to supplement what your policy and deductible will cover.
Deciding which crown is best will depend on where it will be needed, the level of attractiveness you desire and your insurance and financial comfort level. And your dentist can certainly help guide you to a crown choice that's right for you.
If you would like more information on restorative crown choices, 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 Dental Crowns.”
Sports and energy drinks — two different types of popular beverages. But though different they have one thing in common: they can both wreak havoc on your tooth enamel.
That's because each contains high concentrations of acid. And acid is tooth enamel's mortal enemy — prolonged exposure with it causes the minerals in enamel to soften and erode, a process called de-mineralization.
Demineralization becomes even more pronounced when the mouth's pH levels fall below 4.0 into the acidic range. A sampling of various brands of sports and energy drinks reveal mean pH levels below even that threshold. Energy drinks are especially harmful to enamel because the type of acid they contain is more concentrated.
So, what can you do to minimize this threat to your dental health? The optimal thing to do is avoid such beverages altogether, especially energy drinks. If you currently re-hydrate after hard work or exercise with sports drinks, consider switching to water, nature's hydrator.
If you do, however, continue to drink these beverages, then follow a few precautions to lessen the acidic levels in your mouth:
Wait until mealtimes. Saliva is your body's way of neutralizing acid in your mouth, but it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for it to fully buffer acid. If you're sipping between meals on acidic beverages, saliva can't keep up. So, wait until you eat or limit your sipping time on a drink.
Rinse with water. Since water's pH is neutral, swishing some in your mouth right after drinking a sports or energy drink will help reduce acidity.
Wait an hour to brush. Your enamel will begin demineralizing as soon as it encounters acid. If you brush right away you could be sloughing off miniscule amounts of softened minerals. By waiting an hour you give your saliva time to buffer and help re-mineralize the enamel.
Although popular, especially among teenagers and young adults, overindulgence in sports and energy drinks could damage your teeth and increase your risk for tooth decay. With a little moderation and common sense, you can keep your enamel strong and healthy.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports and energy drinks on dental 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 “Think Before you Drink.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Your front teeth are the stars of your smile — so it makes perfect sense to replace them if they’re missing. But is it really necessary to replace a largely unseen back tooth with an implant or bridgework?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Your individual teeth are an interactive part of a dynamic mechanism that enables you to eat, speak and smile. They’re highly adaptable and can move incrementally to accommodate mouth changes — especially when one of them is lost.
Back teeth not only help us chew food efficiently, they also ease some of the pressure from front teeth as we chew. Our efficiency while chewing suffers when they’re missing; other teeth will wear faster and tend to move out of position, “drifting” into the space left by the missing tooth. And without their stimulation during chewing, new bone may grow at a slower rate to replace older bone, reducing bone volume over time.
So, whether visible or not, replacing a back tooth is the best course to take to prevent these adverse consequences. Your two best options are fixed bridgework or dental implants, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Bridgework has been the traditional method for replacing one or a few missing teeth: they’re long-lasting if cared for properly, have a life-like appearance that blends well with other teeth and are a good option when implants aren’t. But they require extensive altering of the anchor teeth (those used on either side of the bridge to secure it) and they’re highly prone for trapping food between them and the gums, increasing the risk of disease.
Dental implants are easily maintained and their installation doesn’t affect adjacent teeth as with a bridge. They’re also durable with a 95% success rate after ten years. On the other hand, the installation process can take several months and visits, and they require a certain amount of bone mass for proper placement and so aren’t ideal for certain patients.
Regardless of its location, if you have a missing tooth or one that may need to be removed, you should visit us for a complete examination. From there we can tell you how your mouth has been impacted by the missing tooth and which replacement option is best for you.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement options, 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 “Replacing Back Teeth.”
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