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.”
What do dentures, retainers and nightguards have in common? Along with orthodontic aligners and athletic mouthguards, they’re all types of removable dental appliances. They also share another commonality: each one depends on the wearer caring for it to ensure its longevity.
The most important thing you can do for your appliance is to clean it regularly. Don’t use toothpaste, though, even with dentures: while your natural tooth enamel can handle the abrasive particles in toothpaste, your appliance’s materials may not. Toothpaste can create tiny scratches that can harbor disease-causing bacteria. Instead, use liquid dish detergent or hand soap with warm water.
Although boiling water may disinfect your appliance, it’s not advisable to use. Even hot water can distort plastic components and warp the appliance’s fit in your mouth. Likewise, don’t use bleach, which can fade the plastic color used to resemble gum tissue and break down the material’s composition. When you clean your appliance, use a brush — but not the one you use for your natural teeth. Use a soft toothbrush, a nail brush or a specialized brush for appliances like dentures.
You should also protect your appliance from damage. Some appliances like dentures have parts that can break if they’re dropped on a hard surface — like the porcelain in your sink. To prevent this, place a towel in the sink to cushion the appliance if it accidentally slips from your hand during cleaning. And when the appliance isn’t in your mouth, don’t keep it on a low table or night stand where small children or pets can easily get their hands (or paws) on it.
And one more thing: don’t wear your denture appliance around the clock — take it out, for instance, while you sleep. Leaving dentures in interferes with the acid-neutralizing and antibacterial function of your mouth’s saliva, which could increase your risk of disease (and bad breath).
Appliances can be an expensive investment in your dental health. By following these guidelines you’ll help protect that investment for years to come.
If you would like more information on caring for your dental appliance, 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 Cleaning Your Oral Appliance.”
So, you’ve just acquired an attractive restoration with dental implants. You may be thinking at least with these teeth you won’t have to worry about dental disease.
Think again. While the implants and their porcelain crowns are impervious to decay the surrounding gums and bone are still vulnerable to infection. In fact, you could be at risk for a specific type of periodontal (gum) disease called peri-implantitis (inflammation around the implant).
Bacterial plaque, the thin bio-film most responsible for gum disease, can build up on implant crowns just as it does on natural tooth surfaces. If it isn’t removed with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings the bacteria can trigger an infection in the gums.
Besides weakening gum tissues, gum disease can also cause bone loss, of critical importance to dental implants. An implant depends on the bone they’re inserted in to hold them in place. If the bone around an implant becomes infected it could begin to be lost or dissolve (resorb), which could lead to loss of the implant.
That’s why it’s critical to keep the natural tissue structures supporting your implants infection-free. Not only is daily hygiene a must, but your implants and any remaining natural teeth should undergo professional cleaning at least twice a year or more if your dentist recommends it.
Cleanings involving implants will also be a bit different from natural teeth. While the dental materials used in the crown and implant post are quite durable, regular cleaning instruments can scratch them. Although tiny, these scratches can become hiding places for bacteria and increase your risk of infection.
To avoid this, your hygienist will use instruments (known as scalers and curettes) usually made of plastics or resins rather than metal. The hygienist may still use metal instruments on your remaining natural teeth because their enamel can tolerate metal without becoming scratched creating a smoother surface.
While keeping implants clean can sometimes be a challenge, it’s not impossible. Implants on average have a long-term success rate above 95%. With both you and your dentist caring and maintaining these state-of-the-art restorations, you may be able to enjoy them for decades.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance: Implant Teeth must be Cleaned Differently.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
Eating disorders cause more than psychological harm. The binge-purge cycle of bulimia or the self-starvation patterns of anorexia can also injure the physical body, especially the mouth.
For example, nine in ten people with bulimia will experience tooth enamel erosion from stomach acid entering the mouth from induced vomiting. Although purging is less frequent with anorexic patients, one in five will also develop erosion.
An eating disorder isn't the only reason for enamel erosion: you can have high acid levels from over-consuming sodas, energy drinks or certain foods, or not properly brushing and flossing every day. But erosion related to an eating disorder does produce a distinct pattern in the teeth. When a person vomits, the tongue moves forward and presses against the bottom teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid contact. This can create less erosion in the lower front teeth than in others.
Eating disorders can cause other oral effects. Stomach acid contact can eventually burn and damage the mouth's soft tissues. The salivary glands may become enlarged and cause puffiness along the sides of the face. The use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging can injure and redden the back of the throat, the tongue and other soft tissues.
It's important to stop or at least slow the damage as soon as possible. To do so requires both a short– and long-term strategy. In the short-term, we want to neutralize mouth acid as soon as possible after it enters the mouth, especially after purging. Rather than brushing, it's better to rinse out the mouth with water or with a little added baking soda to neutralize the acid. This will at least help reduce the potential damage to enamel.
In the long-term, though, we need to address the disorder itself for the sake of both the person's overall well-being and their oral health. You can speak with us or your family physician about options for counseling and therapy to overcome an eating disorder. You may also find it helpful to visit the website for the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) for information and a referral network.
If you would like more information on how eating disorders can affect 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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