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.
That’s just one reason why it’s important to replace missing teeth 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 “false teeth” that you put in during the day and take out at night. Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look as replacement teeth, 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).
Overdentures are removable dentures that hook 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. But overdentures, too, are not meant to be worn all of the time.
Fixed 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 a period of a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the month of May? Balmy breezes? Sweet-smelling flowers? How about root canal treatment?
The last item might seem out of place…but for the last ten years, Root Canal Awareness week has been celebrated in May. So let’s take a closer look at this important—and often misunderstood—dental procedure.
What we commonly call a “root canal” is a special treatment that can save diseased teeth which might otherwise be lost. But the root canal itself is actually a set of hollow, branching passages deep inside the hard outer tissue of the tooth. The tiny “canals” contain the tooth’s soft pulp, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. These tissues help teeth grow during childhood but aren’t necessary in healthy adult teeth—and, what’s worse, they can become infected via deep cavity or a crack in the tooth’s outer layers.
When bacteria infect the pulp tissue, the inflammation often causes intense discomfort. In time, the harmful microorganisms can also pass through the tooth’s root and into the tissue of the jaw, resulting in a painful abscess. Eventually, if it isn’t treated, the tooth will likely be lost.
Root canal treatment is designed to remove the infection, relieve the pain…and save the tooth. It is usually performed under anesthesia for your comfort. To begin the procedure, a small hole is made in the tooth’s enamel to give access to the pulp; then, tiny instruments are used to remove the diseased tissue and disinfect the tooth. Finally, it is sealed up against re-infection. Following treatment, a cap (or crown) is often needed to restore the tooth’s full function and appearance.
Despite some rumors you may have heard, root canal treatment is neither very painful nor likely to cause other health problems. So if you come across these discredited ideas, remember that dentists and dental specialists called endodontists perform some 25 million root canal procedures every year—and this treatment method has been validated for decades.
Of course, like any medical procedure, root canal treatment is not 100% successful. While the procedure has a very high success rate, it’s possible that additional treatments will be needed in some cases. However, the alternative—extracting the tooth—has similar potential downsides; plus a replacement tooth will be needed to avoid the health and lifestyle troubles caused by missing teeth. But one thing is certain: Ignoring disease in the tooth’s soft tissues isn’t a good move, because the infection won’t go away on its own—and down the road it will only get worse.
So this May, while you’re taking time to smell the flowers, spare a thought for the often-misunderstood root canal. If you’d like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Oral appliances run the gamut from night guards and retainers to full or partial dentures. Millions of people depend on them for restoring or maintaining dental health.
Today's user-friendly appliances reflect the latest advances in technology. But that doesn't mean you can simply "place them and forget them." Their longevity depends on taking care of them.
The most important aspect of appliance care is keeping them clean. Although bacteria have no effect on an appliance's materials, they can accumulate on its surfaces and raise the risk your natural teeth and gums will be infected. To reduce that risk you should clean your appliance every day.
The best way is with a countertop ultrasonic cleaner. These units emit high frequency sound vibrations that loosen plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles) from even the appliance's tiniest crevices. Most units cost between $40 and $60, and pose less of a scratching risk to the appliance's surfaces than manual cleaning.
If you'd prefer to use a brush, there are some dos and don'ts to follow. You can use a cleaner especially designed for your appliance, but less expensive mild dish detergent or hand soap (with an antibacterial agent) will work too. Don't use toothpaste — most contain an abrasive ingredient for removing plaque from enamel that could leave microscopic scratches on your appliance. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush (but not the one you use for your natural teeth) or one designed for your appliance.
While boiling kills bacteria, the high heat can soften and warp the plastic material in an appliance. This could alter how the appliance fits in your mouth, making them loose and uncomfortable to wear. You should also avoid bleach: it can whiten acrylic or nylon designed to mimic the red color of real gum tissue.
Unless we've advised you otherwise, don't wear the appliance around the clock, a practice that raises the chances of bacterial accumulation. And be sure you also brush and floss your natural teeth every day.
Keeping both your mouth and your appliance clean helps ensure the best oral health possible — and that your appliance will last longer.
Dental injuries result in thousands of visits to the emergency room every year, and many of these injuries occur while engaging in sports and recreational activities. Whether playing on an organized team or joining a spontaneous game with friends, athletes are much more likely to suffer a dental injury when not wearing a mouthguard. Five national dental organizations have joined together for National Facial Protection Month to urge athletes to use a mouthguard during both practice and games.
The American Dental Association and the Academy for Sports Dentistry recommend using mouthguards for over 30 sporting activities. While it comes as no surprise that mouthguards are recommended for football, hockey and basketball, the list also includes many activities that may not immediately come to mind—among them, surfing, ultimate frisbee, skateboarding, volleyball, skiing and bicycle riding.
In short, it’s wise to protect your smile while participating in any activity where your teeth may make contact with a hard surface. A properly fitted mouthguard can prevent injuries to the teeth, mouth and jaw, and may even help protect against head and neck injuries. Even those who participate in casual recreational activities should consider a mouthguard as an insurance policy against future pain and expense.
There are three types of mouthguards: a stock mouthguard that is bought ready to use from your neighborhood store, the “boil-and-bite” type that is formed to the mouth after being softened in hot water, and a custom-made mouthguard that is available from the dental office. Although any mouthguard is better than no protection at all, the best protection and most comfortable fit comes from a mouthguard that is custom-made by your dentist.
If you have questions about preventing dental injuries, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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