More than 50 million Americans care for an adult neighbor, friend or family member who can't care for themselves. A major part of that care is looking out for their health—including their teeth and gums.
Being a caregiver to someone is a labor of love—but it can be overwhelming. And with oral health especially, it's easy to miss signs of an emerging issue in their mouths that could impact the quality of their lives.
But you can be proactive about your loved one's oral health. In recognition of Family Caregivers Month in November, here are 4 guidelines that can help you ensure their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.
Make oral hygiene easier for them. Brushing and flossing are basic to a dental disease prevention strategy. But an adult who needs care might have trouble performing these tasks: They may lack the cognitive ability or physical dexterity required. For the latter, larger handled-tooth brushes, floss threaders or water flossers can provide them better maneuverability. With cognitive decline, though, you may have to personally assist them with their hygiene tasks.
Watch for dry mouth. Also known as xerostomia, chronic dry mouth is caused by a lack of adequate saliva needed to fight disease-causing bacteria and to neutralize acid that can erode tooth enamel. For a variety of reasons, older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth than other age groups. When this occurs, speak with their doctor about their medications (some can cause xerostomia). And, encourage your loved one to drink more water or use products that boost saliva production.
Accompany them to the dentist. Just as you would with other aspects of their health, become an active participant in their dental care. Forging a partnership with their dentist can provide you the information and guidance you need to better manage their daily home care. You can also bring up issues you've noticed with their oral health that can help guide their dentist's treatment.
Monitor their existing dental work. Your loved one may have full or partial dentures, or dental work like crowns or bridges. These existing restorations extend their dental function and protect their oral health from further disease. It's important, then, to have existing dental work checked on a regular basis to ensure its in good shape and functioning properly.
As the old saying goes, "Healthy mouth, healthy body." This is especially true for adults who need ongoing care. Keeping their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible will help them enjoy better health overall.
Tenderness; headaches; difficulty chewing; excruciating pain. These are a few of the symptoms you could endure with a jaw joint or temporomandibular disorder (TMD or TMJ). This group of disorders disrupts the daily lives of millions of people around the world.
This month is TMJ Awareness Month, to shed light on these debilitating conditions and how best to manage them. Although controlling TMD isn't always easy, it can be done with the right blend of treatments.
The temporomandibular joint—actually a pair of joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the face—is "ground zero" for TMD. These are ball-and-socket joints similar to the hip or shoulder, but with a unique addition—a cushioning disk that lies between the adjoining points of the two bones that temper the forces generated when you eat, speak or bite down.
Researchers believe TMD can arise from a variety of sources, including traumatic injury, psychological stress or mechanical dysfunction within the joint and cushioning disk. These problems can create blood flow constriction, which in turn causes the accumulation of chemical waste byproducts in the jaw muscles. This in turn and cause the muscles to spasm and become inflamed and sore.
Treatments are also as numerous as the possible causes of TMD. But for the most part, they range along a continuum of conservative to aggressive approaches.
On the conservative end, doctors treat TMD as a joint problem and borrow heavily from orthopedics. These types of treatments include the use of anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxing medications, icing or heating, stretching exercises, physical therapy and massage. Dentists may also provide mouth guard appliances for patients with clenching or tooth grinding habits to decrease biting forces.
On the more aggressive end are interventions like orthodontics or dental work. But, while these were common recommendations 20-30 years ago, it's no longer thought to be necessary for treating most TMD disorders and should not be recommended as a cure or solution for TMD. At the furthest extreme is actual jaw surgery to relieve symptoms or repair damage within the joints. The latter, however, has not yet amassed a solid track record, and should be considered as a last resort.
Finding the right combination of therapies to give consistent relief sometimes requires a bit of trial and error. Most doctors recommend starting first with the most conservative methods before considering more aggressive measures. You should also undergo a complete dental exam to see if teeth or gum problems are contributing to your symptoms.
TMD can make your life miserable. But with some persistence and patience, you can find what works for a life without pain and dysfunction.
Although getting an implant requires surgery, it's usually a minor affair. Chances are good that after just a few days recuperation you'll be back completely to your normal activities.
But like many other minor surgeries, an implant procedure does pose a slight risk of post-op infection. That's especially so with any dental procedure like implant surgery, since the mouth harbors numerous strains of bacteria that could escape into the bloodstream. For most people, though, a post-op infection doesn't pose a major problem since their immune system kicks in immediately to defeat it.
But some patients with less than robust immune systems or other health problems can have serious complications from an infection. Among other things, infected tissues around an implant may not heal properly, putting the implant at significant risk for failure.
If you have a condition that makes a post-op infection problematic, your dentist or physician may recommend you take an antibiotic before your procedure. Known as prophylactic (preventive) antibiotic treatment, it's intended to give a weakened immune system a head-start on any potential infection after a procedure.
Using antibiotics in this way has been a practice for several decades, and at one time were recommended for a wide list of conditions. That's changed in recent years, though, as evidence from numerous studies seems to show the risk to benefit ratio isn't significant enough to warrant its use in all but a handful of conditions.
Both the American Dental Association and the American Heart Association recommend prophylactic antibiotics for patients with prosthetic heart valves, past infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and some congenital heart conditions. Some orthopedists may also recommend it for patients with prosthetic joints.
Even if you don't fall into these particular categories, prophylactic antibiotics may still be beneficial if you have a compromised immune system or suffer from a disease like diabetes or lung disease. Whether or not a prophylactic antibiotic is a prudent step given your health status is a discussion you should have with both your physician and your dentist.
If they feel it's warranted, it can be done safely in recommended doses. If your health isn't as robust as it could be, the practice could give you a little added insurance toward a successful implant outcome.
If you would like more information about dental implant surgery, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics.”
It's been a rough year for all of us, but especially for Simon Cowell. The famous entrepreneur and brutally honest talent judge on American Idol and America's Got Talent underwent emergency back surgery in August after an accident on a new electric bike. But the good news is he's well on his way to recovery—and well enough in October to undergo another, less-stressful, procedure: a smile makeover with dental veneers.
This latest trip to the dentist wasn't Cowell's first experience with the popular restoration, wanting this time to update his smile to more closely resemble what he had when he was younger. He even brought along some older photos for reference.
Veneers aren't exclusive to celebrities like Simon Cowell, as thousands of people who get them every year can attest. These thin wafers of porcelain bonded to teeth can mask a wide range of defects, from chips, wear or discoloration to slight tooth gaps or misalignments. And every veneer is custom-made to match an individual patient's dental dimensions and coloring.
If you're thinking about a smile upgrade, here are a few reasons to consider dental veneers.
More bang for your buck. Compared to other transformative cosmetic options, veneers are relatively affordable, with the cost dependent largely on the extent of your dental needs. Still, dental veneers are an investment that can give long-lasting yields of a more attractive smile and even a completely new look.
Little to no tooth alteration. In most veneer cases, we need only remove a small amount of enamel so the veneers don't appear bulky (the alteration is permanent, though, so you'll need a veneer on the tooth from then on). It's also possible to get “no-prep” veneers requiring little to no alteration.
Durable and long-lasting. Continuing improvements in porcelain and other dental ceramics have led to stronger forms that can better withstand the biting forces your teeth encounter every day. Although you'll still need to be careful biting into hard items, your veneers can last for several years.
Easy to maintain. Veneer cleaning and maintenance is much the same as with natural teeth—daily brushing and flossing, and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Outside of that, you'll need to watch what you chomp down on: Veneers are strong, but not indestructible, and they can break.
As Simon Cowell knows, getting veneers isn't difficult. It starts with an initial visit so we can evaluate your dental health and needs. From there, we can present options on how to update your smile.
If you would like more information about dental veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
A Malocclusion—better known as a poor bite—can have far-ranging consequences that could follow a child into adulthood. Bite abnormalities make it more difficult to chew and digest food. And, misaligned teeth are also harder to keep clean, increasing the risk of dental disease.
But the good news is that we can often curb these long-term effects by discovering and treating a malocclusion early. A poor bite generally develops slowly with signs emerging as early as age 6. If you can pick up on such a sign, interventional treatment might even prevent a malocclusion altogether.
Here are 5 possible signs that might indicate your child is developing a poor bite.
Excessive spacing or crowding. A poor bite may be developing if the gaps between teeth seem unusually wide or, at the opposite spectrum, the teeth appear crooked or "bunched up" from crowding.
Underbite. In a normal bite the teeth on the upper jaw arch slightly cover the lower. If the opposite is true—the lower teeth are in front of the upper—then an underbite could be forming.
Open bite. Normally, when the jaws are shut, there is no open space between them. But if you notice a space still present between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut, it may indicate an open bite.
Crossbite. This abnormal bite occurs when some of the lower teeth bite in front of the upper, while the remaining lower teeth are properly aligned behind the upper. Crossbites can occur with either the front or the back teeth.
Front teeth abnormalities. Front teeth especially can indicate a number of problems. In a deep bite, the upper front teeth extend too far over the lower teeth. Protrusion occurs when the upper teeth jut too far forward; in retrusion, the lower teeth seem to be farther back than normal.
See your dentist if you notice these signs or anything else unusual with your child's bite. Better yet, schedule a bite evaluation with an orthodontist when your child reaches age 6. Getting a head start on treating an emerging malocclusion can save them bigger problems down the road.
If you would like more information on malocclusions and their impact on your child's oral 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 “Problems to Watch For in Children Ages 6 to 8.”
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