By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
There are great health benefits to eating better, including for your teeth and gums. But to determine your ideal diet, you'll have to come to terms with carbohydrates, the sugars, fiber and starches found in plants or dairy products that convert to glucose after digestion.
Carbohydrates (also known as carbs) are important because the glucose created from them supplies energy and regulates metabolism in the body's cells. But they can also create elevated spikes of glucose in the bloodstream that can cause chronic inflammation. Besides conditions like diabetes or heart disease, chronic inflammation also increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from dental plaque.
Many concerned about this effect choose either to severely restrict carbs in their diet or cut them out altogether. But these hardline approaches deprive you of the benefits of carbs in maintaining good health. There's a better way—and it starts with understanding that not all carbs are the same. And, one difference in particular can help you properly manage them in your diet.
Here's the key: Different carbs convert to glucose at different digestive rates of speed measured on a scale known as the glycemic index. Carbs that digest faster (and are more apt to cause glucose spikes in the bloodstream) are known as high glycemic. Those which are slower are known as low glycemic.
Your basic strategy then to avoid blood glucose spikes is to eat more low glycemic foods and less high glycemic. Foods low on the glycemic index contain complex, unrefined carbohydrates like most vegetables, greens, legumes, nuts or whole grains. High glycemic foods tend to be processed or refined with added sugar like pastries, white rice, or mashed potatoes.
Low glycemic foods also tend to have higher amounts of minerals and nutrients necessary for healthy mouths and bodies. And fresh vegetables in particular often contain high amounts of fiber, which slows down the digestion of the accompanying carbohydrates.
Eating mainly low glycemic foods can provide you the right kinds of carbs needed to keep your body healthy while avoiding glucose spikes that lead to inflammation. You're also much less likely to experience gum disease and maintain a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on nutrition and 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
We're all tempted occasionally to use our teeth in ways that might risk damage. Hopefully, though, you've never considered anything close to what singer, songwriter and now social media persona Jason Derulo recently tried in a TikTok video—attempting to eat corn on the cob spinning on a power drill. The end result seemed to be a couple of broken front teeth, although many of his followers suspected an elaborate prank.
Prank or not, subjecting your teeth to “motorized corn”—or a host of other less extreme actions or habits—is not a good thing, especially if you have veneers, crowns or other dental work. Although teeth can withstand a lot, they're not invincible.
Here, then, are four things you should do to help ensure your teeth stay healthy, functional and intact.
Clean your teeth daily. Strong teeth are healthy teeth, so you want to do all you can to prevent tooth decay or gum disease. Besides semi-annual dental cleanings, the most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth daily. These hygiene tasks help remove dental plaque, a thin biofilm that is the biggest culprit in dental disease that could weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to injury.
Avoid biting on hard objects. Teeth's primary purpose is to break down food for digestion, not to break open nuts or perform similar tasks. You should also avoid habitual chewing on hard objects like pencils, nails or ice to relieve stress. And, you may need to be careful eating apples or other foods with hard surfaces if you have veneers or composite bonding on your teeth.
Wear a sports mouthguard. If you or a family member are regularly involved with sports like basketball, baseball/softball or football (even informally), you can protect your teeth from facial blows by wearing an athletic mouthguard. Although you can obtain a retail variety in most stores selling sporting goods, a custom-made guard by a dentist offers the best protection and comfort.
Visit your dentist regularly. As mentioned before, semi-annual dental cleanings help remove hidden plaque and tartar and further minimize your risk of disease. Regular dental visits also give us a chance to examine your mouth for any signs of decay or gum disease, and to check on your dental health overall. Optimizing your dental health plays a key part in preventing dental damage.
You should expect an unpleasant outcome involving your teeth with power tools. But a lot less could still damage them: To fully protect your dental health, be sure you practice daily oral care, avoid tooth contact with hard objects and wear a mouthguard for high-risk physical activities.
If you would like more information on caring for your cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Tooth decay is a destructive disease that could rob you of your teeth. But it doesn't appear out of nowhere—a number of factors can make it more likely you'll get cavities.
But the good news is you can be proactive about many of these factors and greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to point you in the right direction for preventing this destructive disease.
Do you brush and floss every day? A daily habit of brushing and flossing removes buildup of dental plaque, a bacterial film on teeth that's the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Hit or miss hygiene, though, can greatly increase your risk for developing a cavity.
Do you use fluoride? This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. Many locations add fluoride to drinking water—if your area doesn't or you want to boost your fluoride intake, use toothpastes, mouthrinses or other hygiene products containing fluoride.
Do you smoke? The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels in the mouth so that they provide less nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Your mouth can't fight off infection as well as it could, increasing your risk of dental diseases like tooth decay.
Do you have dry mouth? This isn't the occasional bout of “cotton mouth,” but a chronic condition in which the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Saliva neutralizes mouth acid, so less of it increases your risk for decay. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by medications or other underlying conditions.
Do you snack a lot between meals? Sugary snacks, sodas or energy drinks can increase oral bacteria and acidity that foster tooth decay. If you're snacking frequently between meals, your saliva's acid neutralizing efforts may be overwhelmed. Coordinate snacking with mealtimes to boost acid buffering.
You can address many of these questions simply by adopting a daily habit of brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and eating a healthy, “tooth-friendly” diet. By reducing the risk factors for decay, you can avoid cavities and preserve your teeth.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
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