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.”
Your gums aren’t just for show—they also play an important role in supporting and protecting your teeth. Healthy gums are essential for healthy teeth.
Your gums can take a lot from daily chewing or other environmental factors. Unfortunately, disease or trauma can weaken their resilience. This weakening could lead to gum recession.
Gum recession occurs when the tissues covering a tooth begin to lose their attachment and shrink back (recede). As a result, the tooth appears “longer” as more of it that’s normally below the gum line becomes visible. Not only is gum recession unattractive, it also exposes more of the tooth to disease-causing bacteria.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, an infection arising from the accumulation of a thin bacterial biofilm on the teeth called plaque. Infected gums become inflamed, a normal defensive response to isolate diseased or damaged tissues from the rest of the body. Chronic inflammation, however, weakens affected tissues over time and results in bone loss.
Other factors can also contribute to gum recession. A tooth that didn’t erupt properly and has come in away from the center of its protective bony housing can impede adequate gum coverage. Your gum tissue thickness, which you genetically inherit, can also increase the risk of gum recession. People with thinner gum tissues are more susceptible to recession than with thicker tissues.
You can also damage your gums (ironically) while trying to care for them. Over-aggressive brushing over time may traumatize the gums to the point that they recede. While it’s essential in removing disease-causing dental plaque, brushing only requires a gentle scrubbing action covering all portions of tooth surfaces. The brush bristles and mild abrasives in the toothpaste do most of the work of plaque removal.
To minimize the chances of gum recession, you should practice proper oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups. And you might also consider orthodontics for improperly positioned teeth that could not only improve your smile, but also your gum health.
And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin gum disease treatment, the less likely your gums will recede in the future.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
While lasers still seem like science fiction, they’ve been used commercially (and medically) for decades. But there’s still room for growth in practical applications with this developing technology. One promising area is in the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection triggered by plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles caused by inadequate oral hygiene. The disease is highly destructive and can eventually lead to both tooth and bone loss. Treatment procedures vary widely, but they all have the same goal: remove the offending plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. Without plaque the infection subsides and the gums can heal.
For decades now, dentists have removed plaque and calculus manually with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment. If the disease has advanced below the gum line or formed deep voids filled with infection called periodontal pockets, the dentist may also employ surgical techniques to access the infected areas.
While all these techniques have a long track record for effectiveness, they can cause the inadvertent destruction of healthy tissue, as well as create discomfort for some patients afterward. This is where a new protocol called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) may be able to make a difference in the future.
With the LANAP® protocol, surgeons direct a laser beam of light through a fiber optic the width of three human hairs onto diseased tissue. The particular color of light interacts with the tissue, which contains the darkly-pigmented bacteria causing the disease, and “vaporizes” it. The beam, however, passes harmlessly through lighter-pigmented healthy tissue; as a result diseased tissue is eradicated with little to no harm to adjacent healthy tissue.
With these capabilities, trained dentists using LANAP® for gum disease treatment might be able to achieve conventional results with less tissue removal and bleeding, less discomfort for patients, and less tissue shrinkage than traditional procedures — and without scalpels or sutures. And some post-surgical studies have indicated LANAP® might also encourage gum tissue regeneration in the months following.
LANAP®, however, is still developing and requires further research. Thus far, though, the results have been encouraging. As laser technology advances, it’s quite possible tomorrow’s patient may experience less discomfort and more effective healing with their gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on gum disease 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 “Treating Gum Disease with Lasers.”
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.”
It takes only a short time neglecting your oral hygiene before you begin to notice some unpleasant things with your gums: swelling, redness or even bleeding. These are all signs of gingivitis, a periodontal (gum) disease that arises from bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces when a person doesn't brush or floss.
Fortunately, early stages of gingivitis can be treated effectively with comprehensive plaque removal during one or more office visits. If, however, it's not dealt with early, it can develop into something much more serious: acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). This form does more than leave you with unattractive teeth and gums and terrible breath — it could eventually cause you to lose your teeth.
ANUG is also known as trench mouth, a common ailment among front line World War I soldiers without access to proper dental care and hygiene. It's most prevalent today among individuals who are under a great deal of stress, not sleeping or eating well and haven't cleaned or properly cared for their teeth for an extended period of time. Tobacco smokers also seem more susceptible than non-smokers to the disease, perhaps because smoke dries the mouth and changes the bacterial environment.
Unlike common gingivitis, ANUG can be quite painful. In effect, the gum tissues begin to die (necrotize), especially the triangular peaks between teeth known as papillae. Besides the other symptoms of gingivitis, the tissues may become yellowish.
ANUG can be treated effectively. The first step is to relieve the symptoms of pain and inflammation through medication. The focus then shifts to treating the underlying cause, bacterial plaque. Besides plaque removal common in any treatment for gum disease, we may also need to initiate antibiotic therapy. Metronidazole is a common antibiotic that's been demonstrated effective against the specific bacterial strain associated with ANUG. We might also combine this with an antibacterial mouth rinse containing chlorhexidine.
The final step belongs to you: to keep ANUG or any other gum disease from reoccurring, it's important for you to adopt a daily regimen of brushing and flossing, along with regular dental visits for thorough teeth cleaning and checkups. Taking this proactive approach will help ensure you won't suffer from this painful and unattractive form of gingivitis again.
If you would like more information on acute gingivitis, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
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