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.
Although we've advanced leaps and bounds over the years treating dental disease, our strategy for preventing them hasn't changed much. That's because these prevention basics are quite effective—and as the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The core of an effective dental disease prevention strategy is mind-numbingly simple—brush and floss every day. These twin cleaning tasks remove accumulated dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film on tooth surfaces that's the primary oral disease driver.
True, there have been innovations concerning the "tools of the trade," i.e., toothbrushes, toothpastes and flossing devices. But what really makes this prevention strategy work is a consistent daily habit of oral hygiene.
In a way, simply "showing up" for daily oral hygiene goes a long way. But you can go even farther if you perform these tasks with greater proficiency—becoming a hygiene "ninja," of sorts.
Here, then, are 4 tips to improve your brushing and flossing prowess.
Be thorough when you brush. Try to cover all of your tooth surfaces when you brush, being sure to work the bristles into all the nooks and crannies and around the gum lines. A thorough brushing should take about 2 minutes.
Easy does it. Hard scrubbing may work on floors, but not your teeth—aggressive brushing can damage your enamel and gums. Brush gently and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the heavy work of plaque removal.
Don't forget to floss. Although you may not like this "other hygiene task," flossing is necessary to remove plaque between teeth that your brush can't reach. Be sure, then, that you floss at least once a day.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your oral hygiene? A quick way to find out is by swiping your tongue across your teeth: If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Be sure to also ask your dentist for additional tips on better brushing and flossing. Improving your technique can help you put even more distance between you and dental disease.
If you would like more information on daily care for teeth and gums, 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.”
There are plenty of hilarious videos of groggy patients coming out of wisdom teeth surgery to keep you occupied for hours. While many of these have turned everyday people into viral video stars, every now and then it really is someone famous. Recently, that someone was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The NFL star underwent oral surgery to remove all four of his third molars (aka wisdom teeth). His wife, performer and supermodel, Ciara, caught him on video as he was wheeled to recovery and later uploaded the clip to Instagram. As post-wisdom teeth videos go, Wilson didn't say anything too embarrassing other than, "My lips hurt."
Funny videos aside, though, removing wisdom teeth is a serious matter. Typically, the third molars are the last permanent teeth to erupt, and commonly arrive late onto a jaw already crowded with other teeth. This increases their chances of erupting out of alignment or not erupting at all, remaining completely or partially submerged within the gums.
This latter condition, impaction, can put pressure on the roots of adjacent teeth, can cause abnormal tooth movement resulting in a poor bite, or can increase the risk of dental disease. For that reason, it has been a common practice to remove wisdom teeth preemptively, even if they aren't showing any obvious signs of disease.
In recent years, though, dentists have become increasingly nuanced in making that decision. Many will now leave wisdom teeth be if they have erupted fully and are in proper alignment, and they don't appear to be diseased or causing problems for other teeth.
The best way to make the right decision is to closely monitor the development of wisdom teeth throughout childhood and adolescence. If signs of any problems begin to emerge, it may become prudent to remove them, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Because of their location and root system, wisdom teeth are usually removed by an oral surgeon through one of the most common surgeries performed each year.
This underscores the need for children to see a dentist regularly, beginning no later than their first birthday. It's also a good idea for a child to undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. Both of these types of exams can prove helpful in deciding on what to do about the wisdom teeth, depending on the individual case.
After careful monitoring throughout childhood and adolescence, the best decision might be to remove them. If so, take it from Russell Wilson: It's worth becoming the star of a funny video to protect both current and future dental health.
It gradually dawned on our ancient ancestors that a healthy mouth was usually a clean one. To achieve that blessed oral state, they chewed on tree bark or employed primitive toothbrushes like bamboo sticks with hog hair bristles attached to their ends.
Today, we have better tools and methods for achieving a cleaner and healthier mouth. But these advancements do little good if a) we don't use them on a daily basis, and b) we're not proficient with them.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, highlighting once again the importance of these two points for keeping teeth and gums as clean as possible. First and foremost, oral hygiene should never take a holiday—even a day or two of accumulated plaque, the bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces, can trigger the occurrence of gum disease or tooth decay.
But while "showing up" every day to brush and floss goes a long way toward a healthy mouth, you also need to perform these tasks well. An inadequate job can leave residual plaque that could still cause disease.
Here are a few handy tips to improve your oral hygiene routine.
Do a thorough job. Plaque can be stubborn, clinging to the nooks and crannies of teeth and around the gum lines—and it can easily be missed while brushing. Be sure, then, to thoroughly work your toothbrush's bristles into all dental surfaces. Your efforts should take about 2 minutes to complete.
Don't be too aggressive. You may need "elbow grease" to clean your floors, but not your teeth. Too much pressure applied while brushing can damage enamel and gums. Instead, go easy when you brush and let the toothpaste's mild abrasives do the heavy lifting.
Use flossing tools. Many people avoid flossing because they find it too hard or cumbersome with traditional flossing thread. If this is a problem for you, consider using a flossing tool—a floss threader or pick, or even a water flosser appliance that uses pressurized water to break up and remove plaque.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your hygiene efforts? One quick way to find out is the "tongue test": Simply swipe your tongue across your teeth just after brushing and flossing. If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Besides your personal hygiene efforts, be sure you also have your teeth cleaned regularly by a dental hygienist to rid your mouth of any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque)—these can also cause dental disease. Professional care coupled with proficient daily hygiene will help ensure you have cleaner mouth and better dental health.
If you would like more information on the best ways to incorporate oral hygiene into your life, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
In the realm of dental restorations, not all crowns are alike. And, one type isn't necessarily superior to the others. One type of crown may work better for a particular tooth, while a different crown is better suited to another.
Therefore, knowing your options can help you make a more informed choice with your dentist regarding the best crown for your needs. Here, then, is a quick primer on the main types of dental crowns used today.
Metal crowns. Early in the last century, crowns made of gold, silver or other metals were the go-to dental restoration. Because of their strength and durability, metal crowns are still used today, mainly in back teeth that encounter heavy biting forces. Their drawback: They're decidedly not the color of natural teeth and so can stand out if they're placed in the visible "smile zone."
PFM crowns. The first crowns made with dental porcelain solved the appearance problem, but couldn't adequately handle biting forces as well as metal. Out of this came the porcelain fused to metal (PFM) crown, which contains an inner core of metal overlaid with tooth-colored porcelain. Providing both strength and life-likeness, PFM crowns were immensely popular until the mid-2000s.
All-Ceramic crowns. The development of porcelains more durable than earlier versions eventually dethroned the PFM (although the latter is still used today). Sixty percent of the crowns installed in recent years are all-ceramic, many reinforced with a strength material known as Lucite. Many all-ceramic crowns reaching the 15-year mark are still in place and functioning.
All of these crowns continue to be viable options for dental patients. The biggest factor in choosing one particular crown over another is the type of tooth involved and its location. As mentioned before, metal or PFM crowns are usually better for back teeth where durability is a higher priority than aesthetics. All-ceramics work well in high-visibility front teeth that normally encounter lighter biting forces than back teeth.
Regardless of which kind eventually caps your tooth, any of today's modern crowns will function as intended. But the best crown for you will be the one that both protects your tooth and enhances your smile.
If you would like more information on dental crown restorations, 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 “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
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