Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life, but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables.
That’s just one reason why it’s important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible. There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures.
Removable dentures are the classic “false teeth” that you put in during the day and take out at night. Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look as replacement teeth, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining).
Overdentures are removable dentures that hook onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. But overdentures, too, are not meant to be worn all of the time.
Fixed dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally a period of a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
It’s likely you depend on your regular dentist for the lion’s share of your dental care. But in cases of advanced disease or trauma, you may need the services of a dental specialist.
This could be the case with periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque that isn’t adequately removed through daily oral hygiene practices. While your regular dentist can effectively treat many forms of gum disease, there are times when you should see a periodontist who specializes in the gum, supporting bone and connective tissues.
So, when should you see a periodontist for gum disease treatment? Here are 3 situations that may call for this important dental specialist.
If your dentist refers you. Your dentist may be quite proficient in treating gum disease, mainly by removing the dental plaque and tartar sustaining the infection. But if the infection has advanced deep within the gum tissues especially around the roots and bone, you may need more advanced measures, including surgery, performed by a periodontist.
If you’d like a second opinion. Of course, you don’t need a referral to see a periodontist. You can make an appointment with one for another opinion about your diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. If you choose to see a periodontist, make sure they have access to all your dental and medical records, as well as your past health history.
If you have other health issues. Gum disease often doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it may exist and even influence (or be influenced by) other inflammatory medical conditions. If you have such a condition like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, you may opt to see a periodontist first for a more comprehensive evaluation.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for the first signs of disease including red, swollen or bleeding gums (if you smoke, be aware smoking hides these signs of disease). And practice daily brushing and flossing as well as obtaining regular dental cleanings to keep plaque accumulation to minimum. Preventing gum disease and getting treatment as early as possible may help you avoid more invasive treatments later.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
If there’s one essential tool for dental health, it’s the toothbrush. But though simple in basic design, manufacturers have nonetheless created a dizzying array of choices that often muddy the decision waters for consumers.
It doesn’t need to be that way—you can choose the right toothbrush like a boss. First, though, you need to know a toothbrush’s purpose expressed as two basic tasks: removing dental plaque, the thin biofilm that causes most dental disease; and stimulating the gums to maintain good health.
So what should you look for in a toothbrush to effectively perform these tasks? Here are 3 important factors to consider when buying this essential dental care tool.
Bristle quality. First, it’s a myth that bristles should be hard and stiff to be effective—in fact harder bristles can damage the gums. Opt instead for “soft” bristles that are also rounded on the ends. And look for bristling with different levels of length—shorter length sections work better around the gum line; longer sections help clean back teeth more effectively.
A “Just right” size. Toothbrushes aren’t uniform—you’ll need to choose a size and shape that works well for you personally. You might find an angled neck or a tapered head easier for getting into your mouth’s hard to reach places. If you have problems with dexterity, look for a brush with large handles. And be sure to ask us at the dental office for recommendations on brush dimensions that are right for you.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. Just like toothpaste brands, the American Dental Association assigns its seal of approval to toothbrushes they’ve evaluated and found to meet certain standards. Although you can find high quality toothbrushes that haven’t sought this evaluation, an ADA seal means it’s been independently tested and found safe and effective for use.
Of course, no matter how high quality the toothbrush you buy, it’ll only be as effective as your brushing technique. So, be sure to use gentle circular or oval motions along all your teeth and gumline surfaces—it should take you about two minutes. We’ll be happy to show you the proper technique in more detail, so you’ll be able to get the most out of your chosen toothbrush.
If you're ready to put the "pizzazz" back into your smile, your dentist may be able to help. It's possible your dull, dingy smile could be transformed with teeth whitening.
Teeth whitening or bleaching is a technique that applies a solution with a bleaching agent (usually up to 35% hydrogen peroxide in an office setting) to the teeth to whiten them. Although there are Do-It-Yourself home whitening kits you can use, there are a few good reasons why you should first consider a whitening procedure in a dental office setting.
To begin with, you should first have your teeth examined by a dentist to determine why they're discolored. Certain foods and beverages we consume or tobacco habits are the usual culprits causing stains on the enamel, the outermost tooth layer. These are the kinds of stains targeted by most whitening solutions.
But the interior of a tooth can also become discolored for reasons like trauma, past dental work or tetracycline use at an early age. If your staining is internal (intrinsic) rather than external (extrinsic) reducing that discoloration will require an invasive procedure only a dentist can perform—a home kit won't be able to do the job.
Another reason for having your teeth whitened by your dentist (even extrinsic staining) involves your time and the degree of brightness you'd like. Because dentists use stronger bleaching solutions (home kits usually use a weaker solution of 10% carbamide peroxide) it takes fewer sessions than home kits to achieve results—and they may last longer. In addition, dentists have more control over the level of brightness to match your expectations of a more subdued, natural look or a dazzling "Hollywood" smile.
A dentist can also help you navigate special circumstances like matching and managing natural teeth whiteness with dental restorations (which don't bleach) or special whitening situations like a single discolored tooth.
Even if you eventually decide to go the home kit route, consulting with a dentist first can still prove helpful. You'll get expert advice on products, tips on how to apply them and how to prolong the whitening effect. Whichever way you go, home kit or dentist, you can gain a brighter, more confident smile with teeth whitening.
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 Questions…Answered!”
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