Posts for: May, 2021
Millions of people are currently caring for an elderly family member. If that describes your family, then you know how overwhelming that responsibility can be at times.
A part of that responsibility is making sure they have healthy teeth and gums, a critical part of their overall well-being. But as with the rest of the body, teeth and gums can wear and become disease-prone as a person gets older. To further complicate things, an older adult may not be able to take care of their own oral health due to physical and cognitive decline.
Maintaining an older loved one's oral health is difficult, but not impossible. Here are 4 areas on which you should focus to ensure they have the healthiest teeth and gums possible.
Oral hygiene. It's important for all of us to avoid tooth decay and gum disease by brushing and flossing daily to remove bacterial plaque, the prime cause for dental disease. You can switch an older adult who is having trouble performing these tasks because of physical impairment to large handled toothbrushes or a water flosser to make things easier. In some cases, you may have to perform these tasks for them.
Dental visits. Dental cleanings at least twice a year further lower the risk of disease, especially in older adults. Regular dental visits are also important to monitor an older person's oral health, and to initiate treatment when the need arises. Catching dental disease early at any age improves outcomes.
Dental work. An older person may have various forms of dental work like fillings, crowns, bridges or dentures. Keeping them in top shape helps them maintain their oral health and protect any of their remaining teeth. Have their dental work checked regularly by a dentist, especially dentures that can lose their fit over time.
Oral cancer. Although not as prevalent as other forms, this deadly cancer does occur in higher rates among people over 65. Be sure, then, that an oral cancer screening is a component of your older family member's regular dental evaluations. And any time you notice a sore or other abnormality in their mouth, have it evaluated by their dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
As part of his "New Frontier," President Kennedy greatly expanded the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Sixty years later, it's still going strong—now as the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN)—supporting physical activity and nutrition initiatives for better health. That would also include your mouth: Healthy teeth and gums are an important part of a healthy body.
The PCSFN designates each May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month to spotlight the important role sports and exercise play in maintaining overall physical fitness. And what's good for the body is also generally good for your mouth.
But while you're out on the field or in the gym, there are some potential pitfalls to watch for that could create problems for your teeth and gums. Here are a few of them, and what you should do to avoid them.
Neglecting oral hygiene. As spring weather warms up, many of us are eager to rush out the door for exercise and other physical activities. But don't leave before taking care of one important item—brushing and flossing your teeth. These hygiene tasks clean your teeth of dental plaque, the thin bacterial film most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque should be removed daily, so take the time to brush and floss before you kick off your busy day.
Sports drinks. A quick scan around sports or fitness venues and you're likely to see plenty of sports drinks in attendance. Although marketed as a fluid and nutrient replacement after physical exertion, most sports drinks also contain sugar and acid, two ingredients that could harm your teeth. Try not to constantly sip on sports drink, but drink a serving all at one time (preferably with a meal). Better yet, unless your physical activity is especially strenuous or prolonged, opt instead for water, nature's original hydrator.
Blunt force contact. A pickup basketball game is a great form of physical exercise. But a split-second blow to the face could damage your teeth and gums to such extent that it could impact your dental health for years to come. If you're a regular participant in a contact sport, wearing a mouthguard will significantly lower your risk for oral injuries. And for the best comfort and protection, have us fit you with a custom-made mouthguard—it could be a wise investment.
Our bodies (and minds) need regular physical activity to stay healthy—so by all means, get out there and get moving. Just be sure you're also looking out for your teeth and gums, so they'll stay as healthy as the rest of your body.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health during physical activity, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Think Before You Drink” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”