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.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
For best results in cleaning your teeth of disease-causing plaque you need both the power of brushing open teeth surfaces and flossing in between them. But you may be wondering: should you perform one task before the other?
In general terms, no—there’s no solid evidence that flossing is better before brushing, or vice-versa. But that being said we do recognize each way has its own advantages.
If you floss before brushing, it’s possible you could loosen plaque that can then be easily brushed away when you perform your second hygiene task. Flossing first can also reveal areas that need a bit more attention from brushing if you suddenly encounter heavy particle debris or you notice a little bit of blood on the floss. And, by flossing first you may be able to clear away plaque from your tooth enamel so that it can more readily absorb the fluoride in toothpaste.
One last thing about flossing first: if it’s your least favorite task of the two and you’re of the “Do the Unpleasant Thing First” philosophy, you may want to perform it before brushing. You’re less likely to skip it if you’ve already brushed.
On the other hand, flossing first could get you into the middle of a lot sticky plaque that can gum up your floss. Brushing first removes a good portion of plaque, which can then make flossing a little easier. With the bulk of the plaque gone by the time you floss, you’ll not only avoid a sticky mess on your floss you’ll also have less chance of simply moving the plaque around with the floss if there’s a large mass of it present.
It really comes down to which way you prefer. So, brush first, floss last or vice-versa—but do perform both tasks. The one-two punch of these important hygiene habits will greatly increase your chances for maintaining a healthy mouth.
You feel great about your new smile, thanks to dental implants! And you may also be feeling relief as the problems with your former teeth fade into the past.
But that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard on periodontal (gum) disease. Even though implants are impervious to decay, the natural tissues supporting them are vulnerable to periodontal (gum) disease. If they become diseased, your implants could lose their bone support and eventually fail.
And that failure could happen quickly. That’s because, as life-like as they are, implants don’t have one important advantage of real teeth: an attachment to a connective tissue called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic ligament lies between the teeth and the bone, attaching to both with tiny extending fibers and holding the teeth in place.
And that’s not all: Because the periodontal ligament contains an abundance of blood vessels, it can supply antibodies to help fight infection. The body’s defenses may not be able to stop disease, but they can certainly inhibit its progress.
Implants can’t benefit from this infection-fighting mechanism. So, when an infection arises in the gums surrounding an implant, it can spread rapidly through a form of gum disease known as peri-implantitis (literally “inflammation around an implant”). If we don’t stop it with prompt treatment, you could lose bone support from your implant and eventually lose it, sometimes in quick fashion.
That’s why you should clean your implants everyday like you do the rest of your teeth with brushing and flossing. You should also visit us regularly for dental cleanings. A dental cleaning involving implants is similar to one with natural teeth, except the hygienist won’t use metal instruments on the implants—this could create tiny scratches on their surface. Instead, they’ll use nylon or plastic instruments or ultrasonic equipment to clean them.
You should also make a dental appointment as soon as you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you have gum disease, we can stop the infection through treatment and restore your gums to health. This can be a long and involved process, but it’s necessary to preserve your implants.
It’s true that implants can change your life. If you want to enjoy that change for a long time, take care of your implants and the natural tissues that support them.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria—millions of them. But don't be alarmed: Most are benign or even beneficial. There are, however, some bacteria that cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which can damage your oral health.
These disease-causing bacteria feed and multiply within a thin biofilm of leftover food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. To reduce these bacterial populations—and thus your disease risk—you'll need to keep plaque from building up through daily brushing and flossing.
Now, there's brushing and flossing—and then there's effective brushing and flossing. While both tasks are fairly simple to perform, there are some things you can do to maximize plaque removal.
Regarding the first task, you should brush once or twice a day unless your dentist advises otherwise. And "Easy does it" is the rule: Hard, aggressive scrubbing can damage your gums. A gentle, circular motion using a good quality toothbrush will get the job done. Just be sure to brush all tooth surfaces, including the nooks and crannies along the biting surfaces. On average, a complete brushing session should take about two minutes.
You should also floss at least once a day. To begin with, take about 18" of thread and wrap each end around an index or middle finger. Pulling taut and using your thumbs to help maneuver the thread, ease the floss between teeth. You then wrap it around each tooth side to form a "C" shape and gently slide the floss up and down. Continue on around until you've flossed between each tooth on both jaws.
You can get a rough idea how well you did after each hygiene session by rubbing your tongue against your teeth—they should feel slick and smooth. If you feel any grittiness, some plaque still remains. Your dentist can give you a more precise evaluation of your cleaning effectiveness at your regular dental visits. This is also when they'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque and tartar.
While professional dental cleanings are important, what you do every day to remove plaque is the real game changer for optimum oral health. Becoming a brushing and flossing "ninja" is the best way to keep your healthy smile.
If you would like more information on daily oral care, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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