As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
For anyone else, having a tooth accidentally knocked out while practicing a dance routine would be a very big deal. But not for Dancing With The Stars contestant Noah Galloway. Galloway, an Iraq War veteran and a double amputee, took a kick to the face from his partner during a recent practice session, which knocked out a front tooth. As his horrified partner looked on, Galloway picked the missing tooth up from the floor, rinsed out his mouth, and quickly assessed his injury. “No big deal,” he told a cameraman capturing the scene.
Of course, not everyone would have the training — or the presence of mind — to do what Galloway did in that situation. But if you’re facing a serious dental trauma, such as a knocked out tooth, minutes count. Would you know what to do under those circumstances? Here’s a basic guide.
If a permanent tooth is completely knocked out of its socket, you need to act quickly. Once the injured person is stable, recover the tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid grasping it by its roots! Next, if possible, place the tooth back in its socket in the jaw, making sure it is facing the correct way. Hold it in place with a damp cloth or gauze, and rush to the dental office, or to the emergency room if it’s after hours or if there appear to be other injuries.
If it isn’t possible to put the tooth back, you can place it between the cheek and gum, or in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva, or in the special tooth-preserving liquid found in some first-aid kits. Either way, the sooner medical attention is received, the better the chances that the tooth can be saved.
When a tooth is loosened or displaced but not knocked out, you should receive dental attention within six hours of the accident. In the meantime, you can rinse the mouth with water and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) to ease pain. A cold pack temporarily applied to the outside of the face can also help relieve discomfort.
When teeth are broken or chipped, you have up to 12 hours to get dental treatment.Â Follow the guidelines above for pain relief, but don’t forget to come in to the office even if the pain isn’t severe. Of course, if you experience bleeding that can’t be controlled after five minutes, dizziness, loss of consciousness or intense pain, seek emergency medical help right away.
And as for Noah Galloway:Â In an interview a few days later, he showed off his new smile, with the temporary bridge his dentist provided… and he even continued to dance with the same partner!
If you would like more information about dental trauma, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by plaque, is one of the most prevalent and destructive dental conditions. Left untreated it can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
Although people are often unaware they have gum disease, there are a few warning signs to look for. Here are five gum disease signs that should prompt a dental visit.
Gum Swelling and Redness. Like all infections, gum disease triggers an immune system response that releases antibodies into the gums to attack the bacteria. The ensuing battle results in inflammation (swelling) and a darker redness to the gum tissues that don’t lessen with time.
Gum Bleeding. It isn’t normal for healthy gum tissue, which are quite resilient, to bleed. In a few cases, bleeding may indicate over-aggressive brushing, but more likely it means the tissues have weakened to such an extent by infection they bleed easily.
Tooth Sensitivity. If you notice a shot of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down, this could mean infected gums have “drawn back” (receded) from the teeth. Gum recession exposes the tooth roots, which are more sensitive to temperature and pressure changes in the mouth.
An Abscess. As weakened gum tissues detach from the tooth, the normally thin gap between them and the tooth deepens to form a void known as a periodontal pocket. This often results in an abscess where pus collects in the pocket and causes it to appear more swollen and red than nearby tissues. An abscess needs immediate attention as bone loss is greatly accelerated compared to normal gum disease.
Tooth Looseness or Movement. As diseased gum tissue causes loss of gum and bone attachment, the affected teeth will start to feel loose or even move to a different position. This is a late and alarming sign of gum disease — without immediate intervention, you’re in danger of losing the tooth.
If you encounter any of these signs, contact us for an examination as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose gum disease and begin treatment, the less damage it will cause — and the better your odds of regaining healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on gum disease, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
Sometimes dental conditions point to health problems beyond the teeth and gums. An astute dentist may even be able to discern that a person’s oral problems actually arise from issues with their emotional well-being.Â In fact, a visit to the dentist could uncover the presence of two of the most prominent eating disorders, bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
Here are 3 signs dentists look for that may indicate an eating disorder.
Dental Erosion. Ninety percent of patients with bulimia and twenty percent with anorexia have some form of enamel erosion. This occurs because stomach acid — which can soften and erode enamel — enters the mouth during self-induced vomiting (purging), a prominent behavior with bulimics and somewhat with anorexics. This erosion looks different from other causes because the tongue rests against the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, shielding them from much of the stomach acid. As a result, erosion is usually more severe on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Enlarged Salivary Glands. A person induces vomiting during purging by using their fingers or other objects. This irritates soft tissues in the back of the throat like the salivary glands and causes them to swell. A dentist or hygienist may notice redness on the inside of the throat or puffiness on the outside of the face just below the ears.
Over-Aggressive Brushing. Bulimics are acutely aware of their appearance and often practice diligent hygiene habits. This includes brushing the teeth, especially after a purging episode. In doing so they may become too aggressive and, coupled with brushing right after purging when the minerals in enamel are softened, cause even greater erosion.
Uncovering a family member’s eating disorder can be stressful for all involved. In the long run, it’s best to seek out professional help and guidance — a good place to start is the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). While you’re seeking help, you can also minimize dental damage by encouraging the person to rinse with water (or a little baking soda) after purging to neutralize any acid in the mouth, as well as avoid brushing for an hour.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on oral 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
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