Posts for category: Oral Health
More than 50 million Americans care for an adult neighbor, friend or family member who can't care for themselves. A major part of that care is looking out for their health—including their teeth and gums.
Being a caregiver to someone is a labor of love—but it can be overwhelming. And with oral health especially, it's easy to miss signs of an emerging issue in their mouths that could impact the quality of their lives.
But you can be proactive about your loved one's oral health. In recognition of Family Caregivers Month in November, here are 4 guidelines that can help you ensure their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.
Make oral hygiene easier for them. Brushing and flossing are basic to a dental disease prevention strategy. But an adult who needs care might have trouble performing these tasks: They may lack the cognitive ability or physical dexterity required. For the latter, larger handled-tooth brushes, floss threaders or water flossers can provide them better maneuverability. With cognitive decline, though, you may have to personally assist them with their hygiene tasks.
Watch for dry mouth. Also known as xerostomia, chronic dry mouth is caused by a lack of adequate saliva needed to fight disease-causing bacteria and to neutralize acid that can erode tooth enamel. For a variety of reasons, older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth than other age groups. When this occurs, speak with their doctor about their medications (some can cause xerostomia). And, encourage your loved one to drink more water or use products that boost saliva production.
Accompany them to the dentist. Just as you would with other aspects of their health, become an active participant in their dental care. Forging a partnership with their dentist can provide you the information and guidance you need to better manage their daily home care. You can also bring up issues you've noticed with their oral health that can help guide their dentist's treatment.
Monitor their existing dental work. Your loved one may have full or partial dentures, or dental work like crowns or bridges. These existing restorations extend their dental function and protect their oral health from further disease. It's important, then, to have existing dental work checked on a regular basis to ensure its in good shape and functioning properly.
As the old saying goes, "Healthy mouth, healthy body." This is especially true for adults who need ongoing care. Keeping their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible will help them enjoy better health overall.
In addition to daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, a tooth-friendly diet can boost your kid's dental health and development. You can help by setting high standards for eating only nutritious foods and snacks at home.
But what happens when they're not home—when they're at school? Although public schools follow the Smarts Snacks in Schools initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, those guidelines only recommend minimum nutritional standards for foods and snacks offered on campus. Many dentists, though, don't believe they go far enough to support dental health.
Besides that, your kids may have access to another snack source: their peers. Indeed, some of their classmates' snacks may be high in sugar and not conducive to good dental health. Your kids may face a strong temptation to barter their healthy snacks for their classmates' less than ideal offerings.
So, what can you as a parent do to make sure your kids are eating snacks that benefit their dental health while at school? For one thing, get involved as an advocate for snacks and other food items offered by the school that exceed the USDA's minimum nutritional standards. The better those snacks available through vending machines or the cafeteria are in nutritional value, the better for healthy teeth and gums.
On the home front, work to instill eating habits that major on great, nutritional snacks and foods. Part of that is helping your kids understand the difference in foods: some are conducive to health (including for their teeth and gums) while others aren't. Teach them that healthier foods should make up the vast majority of what they eat, while less healthier choices should be limited or avoided altogether.
Doing that is easier if you take a creative, playful approach to the snacks you send with them to school. For example, if you send them to school with their own snacks, add a little excitement like cinnamon-flavored popcorn or cheese and whole wheat bread bites in different shapes. And make it easier for them with bite-sized snacks like grapes, baby carrots or nuts.
You can't always control what snacks your kids eat, especially at school. But following these tips, you may be able to influence them in the right direction.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop tooth-friendly snacking habits, 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.”
There are few things sweeter to hear than for your dentist to tell you your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. Depending on how deep the infection may have advanced, your treatment journey may have been a long one.
Unfortunately, while the battle may be over, the threat still lingers—once you've experienced a gum infection, you're at higher risk for a recurrence. To minimize that risk, you may need to undergo dental cleanings on a more frequent basis than before.
The average patient typically sees their dentist for cleanings every six months. The aim of these visits is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacterial-laden particles that is the prime source for gum disease. These cleanings are meant to supplement a daily habit of brushing and flossing, which should remove the bulk of plaque that builds up throughout the day.
After gum disease treatment, though, you may need to have these cleanings more frequently, and of a more involved nature than the normal cleaning. For patients who've overcome advanced gum disease, that frequency could initially be every other week, every couple of months or every three months. This frequency may change depending on the status of your gum health.
Besides a thorough cleaning, a specialized periodontal maintenance visit may include other interventions. For example, your dentist may apply topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial products to keep bacterial growth under control.
Protecting you from further gum infection isn't totally on your dentist's shoulders—you also have a role to play. You'll need to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly every day, along with using any other hygiene products prescribed or recommended by your dentist. Daily hygiene will help prevent the buildup of dental plaque and subsequent bacterial growth.
You'll also need to keep a watchful eye on your gums for any emerging signs of infection. If you begin to notice swelling, pain or bleeding, contact your dentist as soon as possible to initiate remedial treatment.
Gum disease treatment can bring your gums back to a reasonable state of good health. But that state could be reversed with a returning gum infection. Only vigilance practiced by both you and your dentist can stop that from happening.
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.
Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.
Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.
Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.
To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.
But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.
Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.
The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.
If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”