Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them as soon as possible.
There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth, including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures:
Removable dentures are the classic replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
Today's dental restorations are truly amazing. Not only are they life-like and functional, they can endure for many years a hostile environment of bacteria, acid and heavy biting forces.
Even so, you'll still need to take care of your restorations to help them last. Here's how to extend the life of 3 common forms of dental work.
Fillings. We use fillings, both metal amalgam and tooth-colored materials, to repair holes or cavities in teeth caused by tooth decay. Although strong, dental fillings can break if you subject them to abnormally high biting force (like chewing ice). There's also a chance that if a slight separation occurs between the filling and tooth, bacteria can take up residence and reignite the decay process. To prevent this, practice a daily regimen of oral hygiene to clean away bacterial plaque—and reduce sugar in your diet, a prime food source for bacteria.
Veneers. Usually made of thin porcelain, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other blemishes. But although they're strong, veneers aren't immune to damage. Habits like biting nails, the aforementioned ice chewing or unconsciously grinding your teeth could cause a chipped veneer. And if periodontal (gum) disease causes your gums to recede, the exposed part of the tooth may look noticeably darker than the veneer. To protect your veneers and their appearance, avoid habits like ice chewing, and seek treatment for teeth grinding and dental disease.
Bridgework. Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. Traditional bridges use the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge; for a single missing tooth, implants are a preferable option because they don't require permanently altering the neighboring teeth to support it. With either option, though, you should brush and floss around the restoration to reduce the risk of dental disease. Infections like gum disease or tooth decay could eventually weaken the bridge's supporting teeth or gum disease can damage an implant's gum and bone support.
With any dental restoration, be sure to practice daily oral hygiene, eat a nutritious, low-sugar diet, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Taking care of your dental work will help it take care of you for a long time to come.
Somewhere around age 6, your child’s primary (baby) teeth will begin to give way to their permanent set. If all goes well, you’ll notice all the front teeth erupting in the right position: the top teeth slightly overlapping the bottom and all coming in without crowding.
Sometimes, though, the process doesn’t occur as it should and a bad bite (malocclusion) may develop. You can get a head start on treatment if you know what to look for. Here are a few problems for which you should see a dentist — or more likely an orthodontist — for a thorough evaluation.
Spacing problems. Teeth should normally come in right next to each other without a noticeable gap. But if you notice excessive space between the permanent front teeth especially, this may be an indication there’s a discrepancy in size between the teeth and the jaws. At the other end of the spectrum, if teeth on the same arch appear to overlap each other, this indicates crowding in which there’s not enough space for the teeth to erupt properly.
Bad bites. Malocclusions can take different forms. In an underbite, the front bottom teeth bite in front of the upper teeth. If there’s a noticeable gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed, this is known as an open bite. Front teeth biting too far down over the lower teeth is a deep bite and could even include biting into the soft tissue of the hard palate. Cross bites can occur in either the front or back teeth: if in the front, some of the lower teeth will bite in front of the upper; if in the back, some of the lower teeth bite outside the upper rather than normally on the inside.
Abnormal eruptions. You should also be alert for protusions, in which the upper teeth or the jaw appears to be too far forward, or retrusions, in which the lower teeth or jaw appears to be too far back. You should also be concerned if permanent teeth erupt far from their normal position — this is especially likely if the primary tooth was also out of position, or was lost prematurely or not in the right order.
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
Office cleanings and other minor procedures are a routine part of regular dental care. For some people, though, a routine visit could put them at slight risk for a serious illness.
The reason for this concern is a condition known as bacteremia. This occurs when bacteria, in this case from the mouth and conceivably during an office cleaning or other routine dental procedure, enters the bloodstream. Although for most people this isn’t a great issue, there’s been concern that bacteremia could further compromise the health of patients with or susceptible to other conditions like endocarditis (heart inflammation), prosthetic joints or compromised immune systems.
This concern grew out of a number of studies in the early 20th Century that seemed to show a link between dental bacteremia and infective endocarditis. At about mid-century it became a common practice to administer antibiotics before dental work (usually 2 grams of amoxicillin or an equivalent about an hour before) to high risk patients as a way of protecting them against infection. The practice later expanded to other health issues, including many heart conditions.
Beginning in 2007, however, guidelines developed jointly by the American Heart Association and the American Dental Association reduced the number of conditions recommended for antibiotic therapy. Based on these guidelines, we now recommend pre-procedure antibiotics if you have a history of infective endocarditis, artificial heart valves, certain repaired congenital heart defects, or heart transplant that develops a subsequent heart valve problem. Patients with prosthetic joints or immune system problems are no longer under the guidelines, but may still undergo antibiotic therapy if believed necessary by their individual physician.
If you have a condition that could qualify for antibiotic therapy, please be sure to discuss it with both your dentist and physician. We’ll work together to ensure any dental work you undergo won’t have an adverse effect on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on antibiotic therapy and dental 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 “Antibiotics for Dental Visits.”
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