Posts for: May, 2018
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.
There’s a lot to like about replacing a missing tooth with a dental implant. This state-of-the-art restoration is by far the most durable and life-like option available. And unlike other replacement options implants stimulate bone growth, a major concern after tooth loss.
For that reason we encourage getting an implant as soon as possible — for adults, that is. We don’t recommend implants for younger patients because even a teenager’s jaws haven’t yet reached full maturity. Because it attaches to the jaw differently, an implant can’t move with the growing jaw as real teeth do. It would eventually look as if it were sinking into the jaw below the gum line or being left behind as the rest of the jaw grows.
It’s best, then, to postpone placing an implant until the jaw fully matures, usually in a patient’s early twenties. In the meantime, there are some things we can do to prepare for a future implant while also restoring the tooth with a temporary replacement.
As previously mentioned, our biggest concern is bone health. Like other living tissue, bone has a growth cycle of older cells dissolving and newer ones forming in their place. The teeth transmit the pressure produced when we chew to the bone to stimulate this growth. With the absence of a tooth, the adjacent bone no longer receives this stimulation — the growth cycle slows and may eventually lead to bone loss.
We can help this situation by placing a bone graft in the missing tooth socket at the time of extraction. The graft serves as a scaffold that’s eventually taken over and replaced by new bone growth. We can also try to control how fast the graft is replaced by using grafting material that’s slowly removed and lasts longer — often a preferable situation if an implant is years away.
As for appearance, we can create a custom partial denture or even a type of bridge that bonds a prosthetic tooth to neighboring teeth without significantly altering them. If the patient undergoes orthodontic treatment it’s also possible to add prosthetic teeth to an orthodontic appliance.
Eventually, we’ll be able to provide the permanent solution of a dental implant. With careful planning and measures to preserve bone health, there’s a good chance the outcome will be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on treatments for lost teeth in children and teenagers, 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 Implants for Teenagers.”
If you’re committed to providing your family nutritional, low-sugar snacks, you’re not only helping their physical well-being but their dental health too. If you have school-age children, though, you might be concerned about other snacks available to them while away from home.
To begin with, any potential problems at school with available snack items might not be as bad as you think. A few years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established new snacking guidelines for public schools. Known as the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, the new guidelines require schools to only allow snacks sold on school grounds that meet minimum nutritional standards. In addition, these guidelines promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
Still, the guideline standards are only a minimum, which could leave plenty of room for snacks that don’t meet your nutritional expectations. And school-offered snacks aren’t the only ones available on campus: there are also those brought by other students, which often get swapped around. The latter represent tempting opportunities for your child to consume snacks that aren’t the best for dental health.
But there are things you can do to minimize the lure of these poor snacking opportunities at school. First and foremost is to educate your child on why some snacks are better for them than others. In other words, make nutrition an instilled family value—and, of course, practice what you preach.
You can also send them with snacks you deem better for them than what’s available at school. Of course, you’ll be competing with a lot of exciting and enticing snacks, so try to inject a little “pizzazz” into yours like a dusting of cinnamon or a little parmesan cheese on popcorn. And use a little creativity (even getting your kids involved) to make snack choices fun, like using cookie-cutters to shape whole-grain bread and cheese into shapes.
And consider getting involved with other parents to encourage school administrators to adopt stricter snack standards over and above the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative. This not only may improve the nutritional content of available snacks, but also transform a “family value” into a community-wide appreciation for snacks that promote healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly snacking, 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 “Snacking at School.”