By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
From a dentist's perspective, toothbrushes have a limited lifespan: Bristles can fray after months of use, rendering them less effective in removing harmful dental plaque. The American Dental Association therefore recommends a new brush at least every three to four months.
From a user's perspective, that's not that big a deal—toothbrushes are relatively inexpensive and plentiful in stores selling oral hygiene products. In fact, many dentists give their patients a new toothbrush after each dental cleaning.
But there's still another perspective: Mother Earth. Too many of those used toothbrushes end up in the trash. With potentially billions of disposed toothbrushes each year, this essential dental care tool could well be a significant contribution to our planet's overflowing waste problem.
Fortunately, you don't have to consign your used toothbrush to the landfill. After a sanitizing run through the dishwasher, there are dozens of ways to re-purpose your old brush. In recognition of Earth Day, April 22, here are a few of them.
Kitchen cleanup tool. Your kitchen is likely filled with various utensils and small appliances like toasters or blenders that contain lots of nooks and crannies. These spaces can quickly fill up with spills or food debris. With their narrow heads and long handles, old toothbrushes are ideal for tidying up your hard-to-clean kitchen equipment.
Tile grout cleaner. Those narrow bristles also make toothbrushes a great tool for cleaning bathroom tile grout. Simply apply your favorite cleaner, or a little baking soda added to water, and let your old toothbrush do the rest. A toothbrush is also handy for cleaning around other tight spaces around the sink, tub or toilet.
Personal hygiene aid. After retiring from teeth cleaning, your brush can still play a role in personal hygiene. Use if for cleaning under fingernails, removing hair from hair brushes or even getting your eyebrows in good order. They're also handy for applying hair dye if you can't lay your hands on the regular application brush.
Miscellaneous task helper. A used toothbrush can be useful for tasks in and out of the house. Inside, it can help you remove your child's crayon art from walls or tackle stubborn clothes stains. Outside, it's handy for cleaning different parts of your car, the soles of your shoes or grimy bicycle chains. When you need something small and narrow, a toothbrush might just fill the bill.
Have more than enough used toothbrushes? Then consider recycling the next one, if your local program allows it. In its separated components your toothbrush can thus continue to be useful—and not another piece of clutter on our beautiful planet.
We're all tempted occasionally to use our teeth in ways that might risk damage. Hopefully, though, you've never considered anything close to what singer, songwriter and now social media persona Jason Derulo recently tried in a TikTok video—attempting to eat corn on the cob spinning on a power drill. The end result seemed to be a couple of broken front teeth, although many of his followers suspected an elaborate prank.
Prank or not, subjecting your teeth to “motorized corn”—or a host of other less extreme actions or habits—is not a good thing, especially if you have veneers, crowns or other dental work. Although teeth can withstand a lot, they're not invincible.
Here, then, are four things you should do to help ensure your teeth stay healthy, functional and intact.
Clean your teeth daily. Strong teeth are healthy teeth, so you want to do all you can to prevent tooth decay or gum disease. Besides semi-annual dental cleanings, the most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth daily. These hygiene tasks help remove dental plaque, a thin biofilm that is the biggest culprit in dental disease that could weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to injury.
Avoid biting on hard objects. Teeth's primary purpose is to break down food for digestion, not to break open nuts or perform similar tasks. You should also avoid habitual chewing on hard objects like pencils, nails or ice to relieve stress. And, you may need to be careful eating apples or other foods with hard surfaces if you have veneers or composite bonding on your teeth.
Wear a sports mouthguard. If you or a family member are regularly involved with sports like basketball, baseball/softball or football (even informally), you can protect your teeth from facial blows by wearing an athletic mouthguard. Although you can obtain a retail variety in most stores selling sporting goods, a custom-made guard by a dentist offers the best protection and comfort.
Visit your dentist regularly. As mentioned before, semi-annual dental cleanings help remove hidden plaque and tartar and further minimize your risk of disease. Regular dental visits also give us a chance to examine your mouth for any signs of decay or gum disease, and to check on your dental health overall. Optimizing your dental health plays a key part in preventing dental damage.
You should expect an unpleasant outcome involving your teeth with power tools. But a lot less could still damage them: To fully protect your dental health, be sure you practice daily oral care, avoid tooth contact with hard objects and wear a mouthguard for high-risk physical activities.
If you would like more information on caring for your cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
Chronic joint pain (temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD) in and of itself can make life miserable. But TMD may not be the only debilitating condition you're contending with—it's quite common for TMD patients to also suffer from fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a condition with a variety of muscular and neurological symptoms like widespread pain, joint stiffness, headaches and tingling sensations. These symptoms can also give rise to sleep and mood disorder, as well as difficulties with memory. Fibromyalgia can occur in both males and females, but like TMD, it's predominant among women, particularly those in their child-bearing years.
In the past, physicians were mystified by these symptoms of body-wide pain that didn't seem to have an apparent cause such as localized nerve damage. But continuing research has produced a workable theory—that fibromyalgia is related to some defect within the brain or spinal cord (the central nervous system), perhaps even on the genetic level.
This has also led researchers to consider that a simultaneous occurrence of TMD and fibromyalgia may not be coincidental—that the same defect causing fibromyalgia may also be responsible for TMD. If this is true, then the development of new treatments based on this understanding could benefit both conditions.
For example, it's been suggested that drugs which relieve neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain may be effective in relieving fibromyalgia pain. If so, they might also have a similar effect on TMD symptoms.
As the study of conditions like fibromyalgia and TMD continues, researchers are hopeful new therapies will arise that benefit treatment for both. In the meantime, there are effective ways to cope with the symptoms of TMD, among them cold and hot therapy for inflamed jaw joints, physical exercises and stress reduction techniques.
The key is to experiment with these and other proven therapies to find the right combination for an individual patient to find noticeable relief. And perhaps one day in the not too distant future, even better treatments may arise.
If you would like more information on the connection between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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