Our bodies are constantly changing as we age. Although the most rapid development occurs during childhood and adolescence, our bones, soft tissue and bodily systems will continue to change, even as we enter old age.
That includes our mouth and facial structures. Over time change will result in a flatter facial profile: this will cause the nose to gain more prominence as the lower part of our face becomes shorter. The extent of our lip movement can also change with time, resulting in less of our teeth appearing when we smile. The teeth themselves will also wear, which can make them appear shorter.
These and other aging consequences should be taken into account in our dental care. We should consider their impact on the health and function of our teeth (the therapeutic aspect) and our appearance (the cosmetic aspect). Rather than less attention, the effects of aging often require a multi-layered approach to care. The foundation for this care, of course, isn’t laid when we reach our middle or later years, but with the regular and special treatments we receive when we’re young.
For example, the best time to address teeth alignment and bite is usually during early adolescence. Orthodontic treatment will certainly improve dental function and smile appearance in the short term; but improving the bite can also have implications later in life. By anticipating how the soft tissue and bone structure within the face and jaws will continue to develop, we can better determine the final teeth position we wish to achieve. This creates satisfying results in the present and a more stable platform for oral health in the future.
We can apply the same approach to other areas, like the position of the lower jaw. Using orthognathic surgery to reposition it will benefit jaw development throughout adulthood. Making these improvements can diminish the effects of aging later in life.
In essence, dental care is a life-long endeavor that begins when we’re very young and continues into our senior years. Properly caring for your teeth at any age is the key to enjoying good oral health for your entire life.
If you would like more information on the effects of aging on dental health, 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
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.
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum disease, 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
In an instant, an accident could leave you or a loved one with a missing tooth. Thankfully, we can restore it with a dental implant that looks and functions like a real tooth—and the sooner the better.
But if the patient is a teenager or younger, sooner may have to be later. Because their jaws are still developing, an implant placed now could eventually look as if it's sinking into the gums as the jaw continues to grow and the implant doesn't move. It's best to wait until full jaw maturity around early adulthood and in the meantime use a temporary replacement.
But that wait could pose a problem with bone health. As living tissue, bone cells have a life cycle where they form, function and then dissolve (resorption) with new cells taking their place. This cycle continues at a healthy rate thanks to stimulation from forces generated by the teeth during chewing that travel through the roots to the bone.
When a tooth goes missing, however, so does this stimulation. Without it the bone's growth cycle can slow to an unhealthy rate, ultimately reducing bone volume. Because implants require a certain amount of bone for proper placement and support, this could make it difficult if not impossible to install one.
We can help prevent this by placing a bone graft immediately after the removal of a tooth within the tooth's "socket." The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to form and grow upon. The graft will eventually resorb leaving the newly formed bone in its place.
We can also fine-tune and slow the graft's resorption rate. This may be preferable for a younger patient with years to go before their permanent restoration. In the meantime, you can still proceed with other dental treatments including orthodontics.
By carefully monitoring a young patient's bone health and other aspects of their dental care, we can keep on course for an eventual permanent restoration. With the advances in implantology, the final smile result will be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on dental care for trauma injuries, 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: Factors Influencing Treatment Planning in Adolescents.”
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