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.”
Sure, it’s big news when celebs tweet selfies from the dental office… if you’re still living in the 20th century. But in Hollywood today, it’s harder to say who hasn’t posted snaps of themselves in the dentist’s chair than who has. Yet the pictures recently uploaded to Twitter by Mark Salling, the actor and singer who regularly appears as Noah “Puck” Puckerman on the popular TV series Glee, made us sit up and take notice.
“Getting my chipped tooth fixed. Also, apparently, I’m a big grinder,” read the caption. The photo showed a set of upper front teeth with visible chips on the biting surface. What’s so special about this seemingly mundane tweet? It’s a great way of bringing attention to a relatively common, but often overlooked problem: teeth clenching and grinding, also called bruxism.
Although bruxism is a habit that affects scores of people, many don’t even realize they have it. That’s because the condition may only become active at night. When the teeth are unconsciously ground together, the forces they produce can wear down the enamel, cause chipping or damage to teeth or dental work (such as veneers or fillings), or even loosen a tooth! While it’s common in children under 11 years old, in adults it can be a cause for concern.
Sometimes, mouth pain, soreness and visible damage alert individuals to their grinding habits; other times, a dental professional will notice the evidence of bruxism during an exam or cleaning: tooth sensitivity and telltale wear and tear on the chewing surfaces. Either way, it’s time to act.
Bruxism is most often caused by stress, which can negatively impact the body in many ways. It may also result from bite problems, the overuse of stimulating substances (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs), and as a side effect of certain medications. Sometimes, simply becoming aware of the habit can help a person get it under control. Common methods of stress reduction include exercise, meditation, a warm bath or a quiet period before bedtime; these can be tried while we monitor the situation to see if the problem is going away.
If stress reduction alone doesn’t do the trick, several other methods can be effective. When bruxism is caused by a minor bite problem, we can sometimes do a minor “bite adjustment” in the office. This involves removing a tiny bit of enamel from an individual tooth that is out of position, bringing it in line with the others. If it’s a more serious malocclusion, orthodontic appliances or other procedures may be recommended.
When grinding is severe enough to damage teeth or dental work, we may also recommend a custom-made night guard (occlusal guard), which you put in your mouth at bedtime. Comfortable and secure, this appliance prevents your teeth from being damaged by contacting each other, and protects your jaw joints from stresses due to excessive grinding forces.
Whether or not you have to smile for a living, teeth grinding can be a big problem. If you would like more information about this condition, call our office to schedule a consultation for a consultation.
Compared to other dental restorations—a few of which have been around for over a century—implants are a relatively recent development. But even though it's just now entering its fourth decade, recent advances have catapulted implant therapy well beyond where it began.
That's due mainly to digital technology. Two examples of this, computed tomography (CT) and 3-D printing, are increasing the accuracy and efficiency of implant placement.
Properly placing an implant is one of the most important elements in achieving a natural and attractive result. But finding the best location is often difficult due to a lack of suitable bone volume, the patient's bite or the proximity of anatomical structures like nerves and blood vessels. CT imaging, especially Cone Beam CT scanners (CBCT), is helping to make implant placement planning easier.
Unlike the static, two-dimensional views of standard x-rays, CBCT takes hundreds of images and digitally blends them together to create a virtual 3-D model of the patient's jaw and face. Dentists can view this highly detailed model on a computer monitor from various vantage points and better identify possible obstructions. With better information about what "lies beneath," they can more accurately pinpoint the best implant site.
Creating the ideal plan is one thing—successfully implementing it is another. Dentists often create a surgical guide that helps them drill in precisely the right positions during surgery. The guide, which resembles a mouthguard, fits over the gums and contains marker locations for drilling.
Many dentists are now using 3-D printing to create these surgical guides. A 3-D printer turns a digital model of the guide based on measurements of the patient's mouth and proposed implant locations into an actual physical object "printed out" layer by layer of special polymer material. The end product can be more precise than guides created by other means.
These and other technological developments are helping implant therapy rise to a new level of success. With the resulting increase in accuracy, efficiency and less treatment time, tomorrow's implant patients will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
If you would like more information on restoring missing teeth with 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 “How Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
First the bad news: Those nightly hair-raising sounds are indeed coming from your child’s bedroom—from your child. It’s the result of them grinding their teeth while they sleep.
But here’s the good news: the only likely harm is a lack of sleep members of your household might experience because of it. Teeth grinding is so prevalent among pre-teen children that many healthcare professionals consider it normal. But that doesn’t mean it can’t become a problem, so it’s worth monitoring.
Teeth grinding is part of a family of dental habits known as bruxism. It involves any involuntary movement of the teeth and jaws outside of their intended functions not associated with chewing, speaking or swallowing. Our main concern with any bruxism is the possibility for generating stronger biting forces than normal that could damage teeth and gums and contribute to jaw joint problems.
Teeth grinding can occur in adulthood, with stress seeming to be the major trigger for it. With children, though, it’s believed to be mainly caused by an immaturity of the child’s neuromuscular process that controls chewing. As this matures, most children will tend to outgrow the habit none the worse for wear.
But there are pediatric cases in which the generated biting forces are strong enough to cause damage. Teeth grinding is also prevalent in children who snore or breathe through their mouths, which could be a sign of a serious health condition called obstructive sleep apnea. And certain medications used to treat depression and attention deficit disorder (ADHD) may also contribute to teeth grinding.
Most of the time we can simply let the habit run its course. If, however, the child begins to experience abnormal tooth wear, headaches, jaw pain or other issues believed caused by teeth grinding, we may need to intervene. This could include a plastic night guard the child wears during sleep that prevents the teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes. And children with signs of airway obstruction should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
It can be irritating or even distressing. But your child’s teeth grinding doesn’t mean you should be alarmed—only that you should keep your eye on it.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and similar habits, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
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