Entering your “sunset” years doesn't mean you're washed up—you still have a lot to offer the world. That's why the theme for this May's Older Americans Month (sponsored by the Administration for Community Living) is “Make Your Mark.” And to really make that difference, you'll have to maintain your health—including protecting your teeth from loss.
Once upon a time, it was considered the norm for older adults to experience tooth loss and the resulting consequences on their overall well-being. Today, though, not only can advanced restorations lessen the impact of lost teeth, it's also more likely that you can keep your teeth intact for the rest of your life.
To give your teeth their best chance for survival in your later years, here are 3 things you can do to promote their continuing health.
Brush and floss every day. Ridding your teeth of disease-causing plaque on a daily basis is important at any age, but perhaps even more so as you get older. However, hand weakness caused by arthritis or another health condition can make it more difficult to brush and floss. It may help to use a larger-handled toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, and a threading device may help with flossing. If manual flossing is still too difficult, you can try a water flosser that emits a water stream to loosen and flush plaque away.
Relieve chronic dry mouth. Older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth because of increased use of medications, many of which interfere with saliva flow. It's more than an unpleasant feeling: Deprived of the protective properties of saliva, your mouth is at increased risk of dental disease. If dry mouth is a problem for you, speak with your doctor about alternatives to any saliva-inhibiting medications you're taking. Also, drink more water and use saliva boosters to promote better saliva flow.
Keep up dental visits. Regular dental visits become even more important as you age. Dental cleanings are especially necessary, particularly if you have dental work that can interfere with plaque removal during brushing and flossing. Disease monitoring and screening are more in-depth for older adults who are more prone to tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. And if you wear dentures, you should have them checked regularly for fit and overall condition.
If you've already enjoyed decades of dedicated dental care, you need only stay the course. But even if you haven't, adopting new dental care habits now can boost your teeth's health and longevity. To get started, make an appointment with us: We'll assess your current dental health and offer a care strategy for keeping your teeth healthy through the next exciting season of your life.
If you would like more information about dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Other than tooth decay, children don't encounter dental disease to the extent adults do. But injuries are another story: More than 5 million teeth are knocked loose each year, and a high percentage involve children. Roughly a third of these and similar children's injuries are sports-related.
April is National Facial Protection Month: Several oral and facial health organizations, including the American Association of Orthodontists, have joined together to raise awareness about the risks of injury to the face and mouth, especially among children. Many of these injuries have long-term consequences with lifetime treatment costs in the thousands of dollars.
But as the name implies, this awareness month is also about protection—what you can do to help your child avoid a costly and devastating dental injury. Top of the list: Have your child wear an athletic mouthguard during all contact sports activities (including practices).
The National Federation of State High School Associations mandates mouthguard wear for football, lacrosse, and ice and field hockey. But those aren't the only sporting activities where a mouthguard should be standard equipment: In fact, basketball has more orofacial injuries each year than any other sport. Generally, mouthguards should be worn for any sports activity that involves potential contact with other players or objects.
There is a variety of mouthguard choices, but most fall into two basic categories, “boil and bite” and custom-made. The former, readily available in retail sports stores, get their name from the procedure employed when first purchased to adjust their fit to an individual player. Out of the package, they should be soaked in hot or boiling water until softened, and then placed in the wearer's mouth to bite down on. After they cool, they'll retain that bite pattern.
Boil and bite guards are relatively inexpensive, but the fit isn't as precise as a mouthguard that is custom-made by a dentist. This can lead to comfort issues—and players are less likely to wear an uncomfortable mouthguard.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, have a more accurate fit, allowing them to be thinner and more comfortable. They also provide the highest level of protection against blows to the face and mouth. These are more costly than boil and bite guards, and younger athletes may need a replacement every few years to accommodate jaw growth development. But compared to the physical, emotional and financial cost of a dental injury, custom mouthguards are worth the investment.
A mouth or face injury can happen in an instant and result in damage that can have lingering effects for years. For the best protection, see that your star athlete has and wears a custom mouthguard.
To anyone immersed in the “X-Men Universe” Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, a role he played in seven movies. But there’s more to this Australian actor than mutant bone claws and mutton chops that would make Elvis envious. Jackman has also starred in over 20 non-superhero films, including Les Misérables, for which he won a Golden Globe. He is also a Tony award-winning Broadway performer—with a winning smile.
With his famed character Logan/Wolverine fading in the rearview mirror, Jackman has returned to his musical roots. He will play Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man, set to open in Fall 2020. And since May 2019 he’s been on world tour with Hugh Jackman: The Man. The Music. The Show., featuring Jackman and a supporting cast performing songs from favorite shows and films, including Les Misérables and the 2017 hit The Greatest Showman.
The Show, with 90 planned stops throughout Europe, North America and Oceania, is a decidedly different “universe” from the X-Men. As Wolverine, Jackman could get away with a scruffier look. But performing as Jean Valjean or the bigger-than-life P.T. Barnum, he has to bring a vastly different look to the role, which brings us to Jackman’s teeth…
Once upon a time, Jackman’s teeth were an unflattering gray—definitely not a good look for stage or film. So with the help of his dentist, Jackman set about upgrading his smile with teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is a great way to take a dull, stained smile and turn up the volume on its brightness—and attractiveness—a notch or two. A dentist applies a bleaching solution that stays in contact with the teeth for a few minutes. The process is often aided by special lighting.
A professional application is especially desirable if, like Jackman, you want “Goldilocks” brightness: not too little, not too much, but just right for you. Dentists can precisely control the tint level to get a brighter but more naturally looking white. Of course, you can also get a dazzling “Hollywood” smile if you so desire.
And although the effect of teeth whitening isn’t permanent, a dental application can last a while, depending on how well you manage foods and beverages that stain teeth. With a touchup now and then, you may be able to keep your brighter smile for years before undergoing the full procedure again.
One important note, though: This technique only works with outer enamel staining. If the discoloration originates from within the tooth, the bleaching agent will have to be placed internally, requiring access to the inside of the tooth. An alternative would be porcelain veneers to mask the discoloration, an option that also works when there is ultra-heavy enamel staining.
If you’re tired of your dull smile, talk with us about putting some pizzazz back into it. Teeth whitening could be your way to get a smile worthy of Broadway.
If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
Today’s crowns, the visible part of a tooth replacement system, can effectively mimic the shape and color of natural teeth. But not all crowns are equal — so it’s best to be well-informed before you undergo a restoration on your natural teeth such as a single crown or bridgework — or if you need a crown on a dental implant that replaces a missing tooth.
To give you a starting point, here are 3 things to keep in mind about crowns as you consider a dental restoration.
Material composition. Most crowns in years past were made of a precious metal, most notably gold. What it lacked in appearance, it made up for in performance and durability. In recent years, dental porcelain has become the popular choice because of its ability to mimic the appearance and translucent color of natural teeth. Today’s porcelains are much stronger and are used more frequently for back teeth than in years past. A common recommendation for back teeth is a hybrid crown using metal and porcelain. Metal is incorporated beneath the porcelain in this type of crown to create a strong foundation and is also used along biting surfaces for strength. Porcelain is used in the more visible areas for esthetics.
The dental technician’s level of artistry. Most dentists sub-contract crown fabrication to dental laboratory technicians who may have varying levels of experience and artistic ability. A highly skilled technician can produce a crown that blends seamlessly with the patient’s remaining natural teeth.
Take a “test drive” of your future smile. Although we as dentists adhere to certain aesthetic principles, beauty is ultimately subjective — “in the eye of the beholder.” The final product must meet your expectations and level of comfort. If available, then, consider wearing temporary “trial smile” crowns as a preview of your new smile while your permanent set is under construction. This allows you to “try out” your future smile ahead of time, so you can make recommendations and sign off on the final set before it’s finished.
Undertaking any dental restoration is an important life step, both for your health and appearance. Being well-informed — especially about the crowns that you and others will see — will help you make wise choices that lead to a satisfying outcome.
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