You might be noticing some changes as you get older: You're getting winded easier and you're wondering why book or magazine print has suddenly shrunk (it didn't). Perhaps you've also noticed your mouth seems drier more often.
It could be a condition called xerostomia, in which your body isn't producing enough saliva. Older people are more prone to it because it's often a side effect of prescription drugs that can inhibit saliva production. Because seniors tend to take more medications than other age groups, xerostomia is a more common problem for them.
Xerostomia isn't a pleasant experience. More importantly, it's hazardous to your oral health. Saliva contains antibodies that fight bacterial infection, and it also neutralizes mouth acid that causes tooth decay. A lack of saliva puts you at greater risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to alleviate or ease the effects of xerostomia.
Cut back on spicy foods and caffeinated beverages. Spicy or salty foods can irritate your gum tissues and worsen dry mouth symptoms. Because it's a diuretic, caffeine causes you to lose more fluid, something you can't afford with xerostomia. Cutting back on both will improve your symptoms.
Drink more water. Increasing your daily water intake can help you produce more saliva. It also washes away food particles bacteria feed on and dilutes acid buildup, which can reduce your risk for dental disease.
Talk to your doctor and dentist. If you're taking medications with dry mouth side effects, ask your doctor about other alternatives. You can also ask your dentist about products you can use to boost saliva production.
Practice daily hygiene. Daily hygiene is important for everyone, but especially for those whose saliva flow is sub-par. Brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, the top cause for dental disease. Along with regular dental visits, this practice can significantly reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the discomfort that often accompanies xerostomia. It could also help you prevent diseases that could rob you of your dental health.
If you would like more information on dealing with dry mouth, 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 “10 Tips for Dealing With Dry Mouth.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
Even in the 21st Century, losing most or all of your teeth is still an unfortunate possibility. Many in this circumstance turn to dentures, as their great-grandparents did, to restore their teeth. But today's dentures are much different from those of past generations—and dental implants are a big reason why.
The basic denture is made of a gum-colored, acrylic base with artificial teeth attached. The base is precisely made to fit snugly and comfortably on the patient's individual gum and jaw structure, as the bony ridges of the gums provide the overall support for the denture.
Implants improve on this through two possible approaches. A removable denture can be fitted with a metal frame that firmly connects with implants embedded in the jaw. Alternatively, a denture can be permanently attached to implants with screws. Each way has its pros and cons, but both have two decided advantages over traditional dentures.
First, because implants rather than the gums provide their main support, implant-denture hybrids are often more secure and comfortable than traditional dentures. As a result, patients may enjoy greater confidence while eating or speaking wearing an implant-based denture.
They may also improve bone health rather than diminish it like standard dentures. This is because the forces generated when chewing and eating travel from the teeth to the jawbone and stimulate new bone cell growth to replace older cells. We lose this stimulation when we lose teeth, leading to slower bone cell replacement and eventually less overall bone volume.
Traditional dentures not only don't restore this stimulation, they can also accelerate bone loss as they rub against the bony ridges of the gums. Implants, on the other hand, can help slow or stop bone loss. The titanium in the imbedded post attracts bone cells, which then grow and adhere to the implant surface. Over time, this can increase the amount of bone attachment and help stymie any further loss.
An implant-supported denture is more expensive than a standard denture, but far less than replacing each individual tooth with an implant. If you want the affordability of dentures with the added benefits of implants, this option may be worth your consideration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Tooth decay is one of two dental diseases most responsible for tooth loss (gum disease being the other). In the absence of treatment, what starts as a hole or cavity in a tooth's outer layers can steadily advance toward its interior.
Most people associate cavities with the crown, the part of a tooth you can see. But cavities can also occur in a tooth's roots, especially with older adults. Root cavities pose two distinct difficulties: They can lead to more rapid decay spread than crown cavities within a tooth; and they're harder to detect.
Tooth roots are ordinarily covered by the gums, which protects them from bacterial plaque, the main cause for decay. But roots can become exposed due to receding gums, a common problem with seniors who are more susceptible to gum disease.
Unlike the enamel-covered crowns, tooth roots depend on gum coverage for protection against bacteria and the acid they produce. Without this coverage, the only thing standing between tooth decay and the roots is a thin material called cementum.
If decay does enter a tooth's interior, saving it often requires a root canal treatment to remove decayed tissue in the inner pulp and root canals, and then replacing it with a filling. But if we're able to discover a root cavity in its early stages, we may be able to fill it like a crown cavity.
The best strategy, though, is to prevent root cavities from forming. This starts with a dedicated daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. If you're at high risk for root cavities, we may also recommend antibacterial mouthrinses and other aids.
Regular dental visits are also a must: a minimum of twice-a-year dental cleanings to remove stubborn plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) deposits. For added protection against root cavities, we can also apply fluoride varnish to strengthen teeth. And regular visits are the best way to detect any cavity in its early stages when treatment is less invasive.
A heightened risk of dental problems like root cavities are a part of the aging process. But partnering together, we can lower that risk and increase the longevity of your teeth.
If you would like more information on root cavities, 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 Cavities.”
Most people associate bacteria with disease and ill health. But the real story about the trillions of microscopic organisms now living in and on your body is a bit more complicated. With recent advances in genetic code research scientists are learning that many of these microorganisms you’re hosting are actually beneficial for you — including your teeth and gums.
Beginning at birth and throughout your lifetime you are continually developing a distinct microbiome — actual communities of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit your body. As your microbiome develops it helps train your immune system to distinguish between “good” bacteria that help with digestion and other bodily processes and “bad” bacteria that cause disease.Â And it continually adapts to changes in what we eat, the pets we acquire or the drugs we take.
But lifestyle choices like diet can also have a detrimental effect, causing harmful bacteria to become dominant. This seems to be the case with Streptococcus mutans, the bacterial strain most associated with tooth decay. Scientists have analyzed biofilm (plaque deposits on teeth) from the pre-industrial era before 1900 and compared it with modern biofilm samples. They’ve found Streptococcus mutans levels to be much higher in modern biofilm, which they directly attribute to the modern Western diet.
As we gain a better understanding of these findings and of the role of bacteria in our lives, it could change many health recommendations not only about diet but about medications too. In the fight against disease, for example, we’ve used antibiotics to eradicate infection-causing microorganisms, but with a broad destructive ability that can also kill many beneficial strains of bacteria. It’s hoped as our knowledge grows we’ll be able to create newer drugs that more narrowly target harmful microorganisms while not affecting beneficial ones.
There’s a new appreciation emerging for bacteria’s role in our lives. As a result efforts to rebalance a person’s microbiome when they become sick may eventually become a critical element in healthcare treatment strategies. The benefits of this strategy for health, including for our teeth and gums, could be quite impressive.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”
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