One thing’s for sure: We’re all getting older. Here’s another sure thing: Aging doesn’t necessarily look the same on everyone. That one spry octogenarian lapping younger folks on the track is all the proof you need. That’s why September has been designated Healthy Aging® Month: to remind everyone that aging well is an investment you make throughout your life—and that includes taking care of your dental health.
Just like the rest of the body, your teeth and gums are susceptible to the effects of aging. For example, after 50,000-plus meals (about 45 years’ worth), you can expect some teeth wear. A tooth-grinding habit, though, could accelerate that wear. If you think you’re grinding your teeth (especially at night), we can fit you with mouthguard worn while you sleep that reduces the force on your teeth. Managing your stress could also help reduce this involuntary habit.
Aging also increases your risk for the two most common dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Although different in the way they infect oral tissues, both can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss. Prevention is your best strategy—through daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to keep the dental plaque that fuels both diseases from building up on your teeth.
You should also see your dentist at the first sign of a toothache, unusual spots on the teeth and swollen or bleeding gums. These are all indicative of infection—and the sooner you’re diagnosed and treated, the more quickly you can return to optimum oral health.
Aging can bring other health conditions, and some of the medications to manage them could reduce your mouth’s saliva flow. Because saliva fights dental infections and helps restore enamel after acid attacks, “dry mouth” can increase your disease risk. If you’re noticing this, speak with your doctor about your medications, ask us about saliva boosters, and drink more water.
Finally, have any existing restorations checked regularly, especially dentures, which can lose their fit. Loose dentures may also be a sign of continuing bone loss in the jaw, a consequence of losing teeth. If so, consider dental implants: The design of this premier tooth restoration can help curb bone loss by encouraging new growth.
There’s a lot to keep up with health-wise if you want your senior years to be full of vim and vigor. Be sure your teeth and gums are part of that upkeep.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health as you age, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless” and “Dry Mouth: Causes and Treatment for This Common Problem.”
Root canal treatments have suffered a bad rap over the years—and undeservedly. While we applaud root canal therapy for the millions of decayed teeth the procedure has saved, the worn-out cliché that it's painful still lingers on.
So, let's set the record straight: a root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it most often relieves it. Let's look a little closer at what actually happens before, during and after this tooth-saving treatment.
Before: a tooth in crisis. Tooth decay can damage more than a tooth's outer enamel. This aggressive bacterial infection can work its way into a tooth's interior, destroying the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp, before moving on to the roots and supporting bone through the root canals. Untreated, this devastating process can lead to tooth loss. A root canal treatment, however, can stop the invading decay and save the tooth.
During: stopping the disease. The dentist first numbs the tooth and surrounding gum tissues with local anesthetic—the only thing you might normally feel during treatment is a slight pressure. They then drill into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals and remove all diseased tissue. Once the interior spaces of the tooth have been disinfected, the dentist then fills the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a pliable filling called gutta percha to prevent future infection.
After: preventing re-infection. With the filling complete, the dentist then seals the access hole. There may be some minor soreness for a few days, similar to the aftermath of a routine filling, which can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Sometime later, the dentist will normally finish the treatment with a new crown on the tooth. This accomplishes two things: It helps strengthen the tooth against stress fracturing and it provides another layer of protection against future decay.
Root canal treatments have an exceptional track record for giving diseased teeth a second chance. There's nothing to fear—and everything to gain for your troubled tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Millions of microorganisms call your mouth home—and while most are friendly, some are not. An invasive procedure like implant surgery can disrupt the mouth's soft tissues and allow disease-causing bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
This isn't necessarily a major concern if your immune system is sound—your body will move quickly to quash any developing infection. But if your body's defense is weak or compromised by other health conditions, an ensuing infection could cause you problems. In the case of a dental implant, a localized infection around it could lead to its failure.
The bone normally grows and adheres to the surface of an implant soon after it's placed, giving it the added strength and durability for which implants are best known. A bacterial infection, though, could impede bone integration and weaken the implant's hold within the jaw.
One way to avoid this is by treating patients at high risk for infection with an antibiotic before the procedure. In one recent study, researchers concluded that patients receiving a 2-gram dose of amoxicillin an hour before implant surgery helped reduce the risk of future implant failure.
But before taking this route, the dentist must first decide whether antibiotic pre-treatment might be more detrimental than beneficial to an individual patient. Antibiotics can cause side effects in certain people ranging from diarrhea to allergic reactions. Healthcare providers must also be prudent with administering antibiotics for the good of society in general—overuse can potentially give rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A number of healthcare associations highly recommend antibiotic pre-treatment for any dental patient with prosthetic heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and similar heart conditions. They also recognize patients with conditions like prosthetic joints, weakened immune systems, diabetics or other serious health problems could also benefit from antibiotic pre-treatment, but leave it to the physician's discretion on whether or not it's appropriate for an individual patient.
If you're planning to undergo implant surgery or a similar procedure and are concerned about infection, speak with your dentist about whether you would qualify and benefit from antibiotic pre-treatment. If appropriate, taking an antibiotic beforehand could minimize your infection risk.
If you would like more information on pre-surgical antibiotic treatment, 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: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to talk with your dentist about it. It could be your chronic sinus problems stem from a deeply decayed or infected tooth.
Sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the front of the skull associated with nasal passages. The largest, the maxillary sinuses, are located just behind the cheekbones and above and to the rear of the upper jaw on either side of the face. These sinuses can become painfully congested when infected.
One possible cause for an infection in the maxillary sinus can occur in certain people whose upper back teeth (the molars and premolars) have roots that are close to or even protrude into the sinus. This is normally a minor anatomical feature, unless such a tooth becomes infected.
An infection in teeth with advancing decay or whose nerve tissue has died will eventually reach the root tip through tiny passageways called root canals. If the roots are close to or penetrating the maxillary sinus, the infection could move into the sinus. This is known as Maxillary Sinusitis of Endodontic Origin (MSEO).
A case of MSEO could potentially go on for years with occasional flare-ups of sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Because of the nature of the infection within the sinus, the affected tooth itself may not show the normal signs of infection like sensitivity or pain. Doctors may attempt to treat the sinus infection with antibiotics, but because the actual source of the infection is within the tooth, this therapy is often ineffective.
If your doctor or dentist suspects MSEO, they may refer you to an endodontist, a specialist in root canals and interior tooth problems. With their advanced diagnostic capabilities, endodontists may have a better chance of accurately diagnosing and locating the source of a tooth-related infection.
As with any non-vital tooth, the likely treatment will be root canal therapy in which the infected tissue within the tooth is removed and the empty spaces filled to prevent future infection. For MSEO, the treatment not only preserves the tooth but may also relieve the infection within the sinus.
Among dental restorations, implants are the closest prosthetic we have to real teeth. They not only replace the visible crown, but the titanium post imbedded in the jawbone adequately substitutes for the tooth root. Because of their unique design, implants are not only life-like, they’re highly durable and could potentially last for decades.
But while their success rate is remarkably high (more than 95% exceed the ten-year mark), they can fail. Ironically, one possible cause for implant failure is periodontal (gum) disease. Although an implant’s materials are themselves impervious to disease, the tissues and underlying bone that support the implant aren’t. If these natural tissues become infected, the secure hold the implant has can weaken and fail.
A gum infection usually begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Certain strains of bacteria within plaque can infect the gums. One particular form of the disease known as peri-implantitis starts as an initial infection and ensuing inflammation of gum tissues around an implant. The disease can quickly spread down to the bone and destroy the integration between the bone and the implant that helps keep the implant in place.
That’s why it’s important for you to keep the implant and the tissues around it clean of plaque, just as you would the rest of your natural teeth. This requires daily brushing and flossing around the implant and other teeth, and visiting your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings.
You should also be alert to any signs of disease, especially around implants: gum redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. Because of the rapidity with which peri-implantitis can spread, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs.
Preventing gum disease, and treating it promptly if it occurs, is a key part of implant longevity. Preserving your overall dental health will help make sure your implant doesn’t become a loss statistic.
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