While some aspects of regular dental visits are much the same for everyone, they can be more involved for an older adult. That’s because people later in life face an increased risk of dental disease and other age-related issues.
If you’re a caregiver for an older adult, you’ll want to be aware of these heightened risks. Here are 4 areas of concern we may check during their next regular dental visit.
Oral cancer. While it can occur at any age, cancer is more prevalent among older adults. Although rarer than other cancers, oral cancer’s survival rate is a dismal 50% after five years. This is because the disease is difficult to detect early or is misidentified as other conditions. To increase the odds of early detection (and better survival chances) we may perform a cancer screening during the visit.
Dental disease. The risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease also increase with age. A primary risk factor for older people is a lack of adequate saliva (the mouth’s natural disease fighter) often caused by medications or systemic conditions. We’ll watch carefully for any signs of disease, as well as assess their individual risk factors (including medications) for decreased oral health.
Dentures. If they wear dentures, we’ll check the appliance’s fit. While dentures can wear with use, the fit may also grow loose due to continuing bone loss in the jaw, a downside of denture wearing. We’ll make sure they still fit comfortably and aren’t stressing the gums or supporting teeth. It may be necessary to reline them or consider replacing them with a new set.
Oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing are just as important for older adults as for younger people for preventing dental disease, but often more difficult due to mental or physical impairment. We can note areas of bacterial plaque buildup and recommend ways to improve their hygiene efforts.
Depending on how well your older adult can care for themselves, it may be advisable for you to come with them when they visit us. Our dental team can provide valuable information and advice to help you help them have a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
If you’ve noticed redness or small skin cracks at the corners of your mouth, you may have a common infection known as perleche or angular cheilitis. Depending on its cause, there are ways to treat the redness and skin cracking to lessen your discomfort.
The term perleche comes from the French word “lecher,” meaning to lick. This is derived from the tendency of perleche patients to constantly lick the area to ease irritation; unfortunately, this also helps perpetuate the inflammation. Once the skin is broken the area is commonly infected by yeast called candida albicans.
Initially, perleche may arise from a variety of sources, most of them locally from either inside or around the mouth, although it can be triggered by a general body infection or disease like diabetes or cancer, or vitamin or iron deficiencies. Inside the mouth reduced saliva flow, tissue inflammation under a rarely cleaned denture (denture stomatitis), pressure on the mouth corners caused by a collapsed bite due to missing teeth and similar conditions can elevate the risks for infection. Around the mouth wrinkling or “marionette lines,” deep lines that extend from the mouth to the chin due to aging or environmental exposure, can contribute to crack formation. Drooling during sleep or as a result of orthodontic treatment is also a contributing cause.
The main focus of treatment for perleche is to bring any infection under control. This can be accomplished with a course of oral or topical antifungal (yeast-attacking) medication. If the infection has spread into the mouth or throat we might then prescribe a troche, a small lozenge designed to dissolve, which you would rinse with and then swallow to affect other portions of the mouth. Steroid or zinc oxide ointments applied directly to the skin can control inflammation and serve as a barrier agent with antifungal properties to promote healing.
If the cause is more related to dental problems (ill-fitting dentures or missing teeth), then it’s important to have these addressed and treated. You may also consult a dermatologist for treatments to lessen wrinkling around the mouth that might also contribute to chronic cases of perleche.
If you would like more information on cracked mouth corners, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
You may be familiar with a dental implant used to replace a single tooth — but implant technology can do much more. Implants can also support other restorations including total teeth replacement on a jaw.
The reason they're so versatile is because implants replace the tooth root as well as the visible crown. We use a metal post, usually made of titanium, which we surgically implant in the jawbone as a root substitute. Because of a special affinity with titanium, bone around the implant grows and adheres to it and creates a durable bond.
With a single tooth replacement (the implant's original purpose when they were introduced in the 1980s) we attach a life-like porcelain crown to the individual titanium post. But with their continuing development we've adapted implants for other applications, like using a few strategically-placed implants as a stable platform for removable dentures or fixed bridges.
We're now able to use implants to support a full prosthetic (false) dental arch. Though similar in appearance to a removable denture, this particular prosthesis is permanently joined to the supporting implants with retaining screws.
Of course, the application requires careful pre-planning, which includes making sure you have enough healthy bone to support the implants. We'll also need to determine how many implants you'll need (usually four to six for this application) and create a surgical guide to place them in the best location for supporting the prosthesis. A dental technician will then create the prosthesis to match your jaw ridge contours and facial structure.
Using implants this way has a benefit other types of restorations can't provide: they may help stop future bone loss. The jawbone life cycle depends on stimulation from the attached tooth as you bite and chew — stimulation that ends when you lose the tooth. Traditional dentures and other restorations can't replicate that stimulation. Implants, on the other hand, directly encourage bone growth and can stop gradual bone loss.
If you need some form of total teeth replacement, consider one supported by implants. You may find they'll provide an excellent long-term solution to both function and appearance.
Are tooth decay and gum disease preventable? In large part, they are, say dental experts, and prophylactic services, such as professional teeth cleanings from your Batavia, IL, dentist help. At Elliff Dental, Drs. Andrew and Laura Elliff and their dedicated team praise the many benefits of six-month check-ups and cleanings. These in-office treatments partner with conscientious at-home care to keep smiles at their very best.
Your teeth and gums
Frankly, they are loaded with an acid-producing bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. These microbes especially collects in soft, sticky plaque and the hard tartar which form from the carb-based foods we consume. While heredity, alcohol consumption, smoking and other factors affect biofilm formation, poor oral hygiene really encourages the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Over time, cavities and periodontitis result.
However, when you eat a low-sugar diet and brush and floss diligently at home (the American Dental Association advises twice daily brushing and once daily flossing), smiles fare much, much better. Add the thoroughness of a professional cleaning at your dentist's office in Batavia, IL, and your teeth and gums can thrive.
What happens at an examination and cleaning
First, your hygienist will review your medical history and update it as needed. Next, they'll examine your teeth and gums and measure your gum pockets (the spaces between your teeth and gums). Then, they will scale your teeth with ultrasonic and handheld instruments.
Dental scaling gently scrapes away plaque and tartar which builds up in places you cannot reach with your floss and brush. Interdental spaces and back molars are notorious for plaque and tartar formation. The hygienist also flosses your teeth and polishes them with a fine grit toothpaste and special rotary brush. So, not only will your teeth be very clean, they'll feel that way, too!
When Dr. Elliff does your examination, he or she will look for:
- Signs of gum disease
- The condition of previous restorative work such as fillings and crowns
- Signs of oral cancer (this is a quick and painless visual check)
- Uneven enamel wear
- Jaw joint problems
- Bite issues
When should you have your teeth cleaned?
Usually, it's recommended every six months. However, people who are prone to gum disease may need more frequent cleanings to maintain gum health. Your care plan will be tailored to meet your individual needs.
Please phone Elliff Dental in Batavia, IL, to arrange your routine cleaning and check-up with your dentist. Your smile will thank you for it. Call (630) 482-7200.
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