As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
Great oral hygiene is built on two principal tasks — daily brushing and flossing. Brushing removes plaque — a thin film of bacteria and food particles — from broad tooth surfaces. Flossing removes plaque between your teeth you can’t reach effectively with brushing. It takes both tasks to get the most disease prevention benefit from your daily cleaning.
Many people, though, have a hard time incorporating the latter of the two into their daily routine. This may be because manual flossing with string seems to require a bit more manual dexterity, although it can be mastered with proper training and practice. Some, though, may not possess the physical ability to adequately floss. It’s also difficult for individuals wearing orthodontic braces or other appliances that cover teeth.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to string floss: oral irrigation. This method removes plaque from between teeth with pulsating water pressurized by either a handheld or countertop device known as an oral irrigator or water flosser, and emitted through a special nozzle directed at the teeth. Studies have shown it to be an effective means for controlling plaque.
As to you switching to a home water flosser, we’ll be happy to discuss if it’s a good option for you. We can also train you on effective techniques for string flossing if you don’t feel you’re doing it properly.
Whichever method you use, it’s important for you to floss daily to keep plaque under control between your teeth. Along with brushing and regular dental visits, it’s one of the best things you can do to ensure your teeth stay healthy and free of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
If you would like more information on flossing, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
Whether she’s singing, dancing or acting, Jennifer Lopez is a performer who is known for giving it all she’s got. But during one show, Lopez recently admitted, she gave a bit more then she had planned.
“I chipped my tooth on stage,” she told interviewers from Entertainment Tonight, “and had to finish the show….I went back thinking ‘Can I finish the show like this?’”
With that unlucky break, J-Lo joins a growing list of superstar singers—including Taylor Swift and Michael Buble—who have something in common: All have chipped their teeth on microphones while giving a performance.
But it’s not just celebs who have accidental dental trouble. Chips are among the most common dental injuries—and the front teeth, due to their position, are particularly susceptible. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible. But there are also a number of good ways to repair chipped, cracked or broken teeth short of replacing them.
For minor to moderate chips, cosmetic bonding might be recommended. In this method, special high-tech resins, in shades that match your natural teeth, are applied to the tooth’s surface. Layers of resin, cured with a special light, will often restore the tooth to good appearance. Best of all, the whole process can often be done in just one visit to the dental office, and the results can last for several years.
For a more permanent repair—or if the damage is more extensive—dental veneers may be another option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that cover the entire front surface of one or more teeth. Strong, durable and natural-looking, they can be used to repair moderate chips, cracks or irregularities. They can also help you get a “red-carpet” smile: brilliant white teeth with perfectly even spacing. That’s why veneers are so popular among Hollywood celebs—even those who haven’t chipped their teeth!
Fortunately, even if the tooth is extensively damaged, it’s usually possible to restore it with a crown (cap), a bridge—or a dental implant, today’s gold standard for whole-tooth replacement. But in many cases, a less complex type of restoration will do the trick.
Which tooth restoration method did J-Lo choose? She didn’t say—but luckily for her adoring fans, after the microphone mishap she went right back up on stage and finished the show.
If you have a chipped tooth but you need to make the show go on, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Chronic pain can turn your life upside down. While there are a number of disorders that fit in this category, two of them—fibromyalgia and temporomandibular disorders (TMD)—can disrupt your quality of life to the extreme. And it may be the two conditions have more in common than similar symptoms—according to one study, three-fourths of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia show symptoms of TMD.
To understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at these two conditions.
Fibromyalgia presents as widespread pain, aching or stiffness in the muscles and joints. Patients may also have general fatigue, sleep problems, mood swings or memory failures. TMD is a group of conditions that often result in pain and impairment of the temporomandibular joints that join the jaw with the skull. TMD can make normal activities like chewing, speaking or even yawning painful and difficult to do.
Researchers are now focusing on what may, if anything, connect these two conditions. Fibromyalgia is now believed to be an impairment of the central nervous system within the brain rather than a problem with individual nerves. One theory holds that the body has imbalances in its neurotransmitters, which interfere with the brain’s pain processing.
Researchers have also found fibromyalgia patients with TMD have an increased sensitivity overall than those without the conditions. In the end, it may be influenced by genetics as more women than men are prone to have either of the conditions.
Treating these conditions is a matter of management. Although invasive techniques like jaw surgery for TMD are possible, the results (which are permanent) have been inconclusive in their effectiveness for relieving pain. We usually recommend patients try more conservative means first to lessen pain and difficulties, including soft foods, physical therapy, stretching exercises and muscle relaxant medication. Since stress is a major factor in both conditions, learning and practicing relaxation techniques may also be beneficial.
In similar ways, these techniques plus medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy that may influence neurotransmission can also help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Be sure then that you consult with both your physician and dentist caring for both these diseases for the right approach for you to help relieve the effects of these two debilitating conditions.
If you would like more information on managing TMD or fibromyalgia, 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.”
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