Posts for: March, 2017
While your chances of losing teeth increase as you age, it's not a given. With proper hygiene and care your teeth could last a lifetime.
But brushing and flossing can become more difficult in later years. Arthritis or strength issues in the fingers and hands make holding a toothbrush an arduous chore and flossing next to impossible.
But you can accommodate these physical changes. Many seniors find using a powered toothbrush much easier to handle and effective for removing disease-causing plaque. A tennis ball or bike handle grip attached to a manual toothbrush can also make it easier to handle. As to flossing, older people may find it easier to use floss threaders or a water irrigator, which removes plaque from between teeth with a pressurized water spray.
You may also find changes in the mouth that increase your risk for dental disease. One such issue is xerostomia, dry mouth. As you age you don't produce as much saliva, which neutralizes acid and restores minerals to enamel, as when you were younger. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of certain medications. Older people are also more likely to suffer from gastric reflux, which can introduce stomach acid into the mouth.
With these dry, acidic conditions, you're more susceptible to both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can help offset it by increasing water consumption, taking a saliva stimulator, changing to alternative medications if available, and relieving gastric reflux.
Another area of concern in aging is the higher risk for inflammatory diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which could also increase your risk of periodontal (gum) disease. Seeking treatment for gum disease and other similar systemic diseases may help ease the effects of each one.
Taking care of your mouth can be challenging as you grow older. But tooth loss and other unpleasant results aren't inevitable. Invest in your teeth and gums today and you're more likely to have a healthy life and smile all through your golden years.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth and gums as you age, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Repairing a decayed tooth may be as simple as removing the damaged tooth material and filling the void. Many filling materials can now match the color of a tooth, so the dental work is hardly noticeable.
Sometimes, though, the decay is too extensive or we've treated the tooth several times and it won't support another filling. If the tooth is still viable, we may be able to cover it with a custom crown.
Also known as a cap, a crown fits over and is securely affixed to the tooth with bonding material or cement. Crowns have been used for decades to restore teeth, but the materials they're made of have changed with time.
The original crowns were made of metal, usually gold or silver. They were strong and could hold up well to the daily forces produced by chewing or biting. They did, however, visually stand out and came to be regarded as unattractive. There were porcelain materials available that could closely mimic the life-likeness of teeth, but they could be weak and brittle.
Dentists came up with a hybrid crown that could supply strength as well as an attractive appearance. These were composed of two parts: an inner metal frame for strength overlaid with porcelain for appearance. These fused crowns were the most popular until the mid-2000s.
About that time, newer forms of porcelain came on the market that were not only attractive, but also durable. Although caution should still be taken when biting something hard, they've proven to stand up well to biting forces. Fused porcelain to metal is still in use, but usually for back teeth where biting forces are higher and the crown won't be as noticeable as on front teeth.
Crowns can also address cosmetic issues with chipped, fractured or excessively worn teeth. But with any crown you should be aware that much of the original tooth material must be removed to accommodate the fit. The altered tooth will require a crown or other restoration from then on. Crowns must also be custom-made by a dental technician in a process that can take weeks.
Still, the process can be well worth it. With proper care and maintenance, a crown could serve you and your smile well for many years to come.
If you would like more information on crowns and other restoration 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”