We can't stop getting older or completely avoid many of the consequences that come with aging. Even so, there are things we can do to age more gracefully.
That includes your smile, which can also suffer the ravages of time. Teeth naturally wear and yellow over the years. We're also more susceptible to both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease as we age.
You can help slow some of these age-related dental problems by simply caring for your teeth and gums. This includes not only brushing and flossing every day to remove dental plaque (which can cause disease and dull your smile), but also seeing a dentist every few months for more thorough cleanings.
You can also take advantage of certain cosmetic enhancements to address some of the age-related issues that could keep you from having a more youthful smile.
Discolored teeth. Teeth tend to get darker over time, the combination of stain-causing foods and beverages, habits like smoking and age-related changes in tooth structure. You may be able to temporarily attain a brighter smile with teeth whitening. For a more permanent effect, we can cover stained teeth with porcelain veneers, dental bonding or dental crowns.
Worn teeth. After decades of chewing and biting, teeth tend to wear, with habits like teeth grinding accelerating it. This can cause teeth to appear abnormally small with hard, sharpened edges in contrast to the soft, rounded contours of younger teeth. In some cases, we can restore softer tooth edges with enamel contouring and reshaping. For more severe wearing, veneers or crowns could once again provide a solution.
Recessed gums. Because of gum disease, over-aggressive brushing or a genetic disposition to thinner gums, gums can shrink back or “recede” from normal teeth coverage. This not only exposes vulnerable areas of the teeth to harmful bacteria, it can also make teeth appear longer than normal (hence the aging description, “long in the tooth”). We can address recession by treating any gum disease present and, in extreme cases, perform grafting surgery to help rebuild lost tissue.
Losing your attractive smile isn't inevitable as you get older. We can help you make sure your smile ages gracefully along with the rest of you.
If you would like more information on keeping a youthful smile, 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 Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
Even though coronavirus lockdowns have prevented TV hosts from taping live shows, they're still giving us something to watch via virtual interviews. In the process, we're given occasional glimpses into their home life. During a Tonight Show interview with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R & B performer Ciara, Jimmy Fallon's daughter Winnie interrupted with breaking news: She had just lost a tooth.
It was an exciting and endearing moment, as well as good television. But with 70 million American kids under 18, each with about 20 primary teeth to lose, it's not an uncommon experience. Nevertheless, it's still good to be prepared if your six-year-old is on the verge of losing that first tooth.
Primary teeth may be smaller than their successors, but they're not inconsequential. Besides providing young children with the means to chew solid food and develop speech skills, primary teeth also serve as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth as they develop deep in the gums. That's why it's optimal for baby teeth to remain intact until they're ready to come out.
When that time comes, the tooth's roots will begin to dissolve and the tooth will gradually loosen in the socket. Looseness, though, doesn't automatically signal a baby tooth's imminent end. But come out it will, so be patient.
Then again, if your child, dreaming of a few coins from the tooth fairy, is antsy to move things along, you might feel tempted to use some old folk method for dispatching the tooth—like attaching the tooth to a door handle with string and slamming the door, or maybe using a pair of pliers (yikes!). One young fellow in an online video tied his tooth to a football with a string and let it fly with a forward pass.
Here's some advice from your dentist: Don't. Trying to pull a tooth whose root hasn't sufficiently dissolved could damage your child's gum tissues and increase the risk of infection. It could also cause needless pain.
Left alone, the tooth will normally fall out on its own. If you think, though, that it's truly on the verge (meaning it moves quite freely in the socket), you can pinch the tooth between your thumb and middle finger with a clean tissue and give it a gentle tug. If it's ready, it should pop out. If it doesn't, leave it be for another day or two before trying again.
Your child losing a tooth is an exciting moment, even if it isn't being broadcast on national television. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you let that moment come naturally.
If you would like more information on the importance and care of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Osteoporosis is a serious bone weakening disease in older adults that can turn a minor fall into a major bone fracture. But the condition could also impact dental treatment—triggered ironically by the drugs used to treat osteoporosis rather than the disease itself.
From the Latin for “porous bone,” osteoporosis causes bone to gradually lose mineral structure. Over time the naturally-occurring spaces between mineralized portions of the bone enlarge, leaving it weaker as a result.
Although there's no definitive cure for osteoporosis, a number of drugs developed over the last couple of decades can inhibit its progress. Most fall into two major categories, bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors.
These drugs work by inhibiting the normal growth cycle of bone. Living bone constantly changes as cells called osteoblasts produce new bone. A different type, osteoclasts, clear away older bone to make room for these newer cells. The drugs selectively destroy osteoclasts so that the older bone, which would have been removed by them, remains for a longer period of time.
Retaining older cells longer initially slows the disease process. But there is a downside: in time, this older bone kept in place continues to weaken and lose vitality. In rare instances it may eventually become detached from its blood supply and die, resulting in what is known as osteonecrosis.
Osteonecrosis mostly affects two particular bones in the body: the femur (the long bone in the upper leg) and the jawbone. In regard to the latter, even the stress of chewing could cause osteonecrosis in someone being treated for osteoporosis. It can also occur after tooth extractions or similar invasive procedures.
If you're taking a bisphosphonate or RANKL inhibitor, you'll want to inform your dentist so that the necessary precautions can be taken before undergoing dental work more invasive than routine cleanings or getting a filling or crown. If you need major dental work, your dentist or you will also need to speak with your physician about stopping the drug for a few months before and after a dental procedure to minimize the risk of osteonecrosis.
Fortunately, the risk for dental problems while undergoing treatment for osteoporosis is fairly low. Still, you'll want to be as prepared as possible so that the management of your osteoporosis doesn't harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Chronic joint pain (temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD) in and of itself can make life miserable. But TMD may not be the only debilitating condition you're contending with—it's quite common for TMD patients to also suffer from fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a condition with a variety of muscular and neurological symptoms like widespread pain, joint stiffness, headaches and tingling sensations. These symptoms can also give rise to sleep and mood disorder, as well as difficulties with memory. Fibromyalgia can occur in both males and females, but like TMD, it's predominant among women, particularly those in their child-bearing years.
In the past, physicians were mystified by these symptoms of body-wide pain that didn't seem to have an apparent cause such as localized nerve damage. But continuing research has produced a workable theory—that fibromyalgia is related to some defect within the brain or spinal cord (the central nervous system), perhaps even on the genetic level.
This has also led researchers to consider that a simultaneous occurrence of TMD and fibromyalgia may not be coincidental—that the same defect causing fibromyalgia may also be responsible for TMD. If this is true, then the development of new treatments based on this understanding could benefit both conditions.
For example, it's been suggested that drugs which relieve neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain may be effective in relieving fibromyalgia pain. If so, they might also have a similar effect on TMD symptoms.
As the study of conditions like fibromyalgia and TMD continues, researchers are hopeful new therapies will arise that benefit treatment for both. In the meantime, there are effective ways to cope with the symptoms of TMD, among them cold and hot therapy for inflamed jaw joints, physical exercises and stress reduction techniques.
The key is to experiment with these and other proven therapies to find the right combination for an individual patient to find noticeable relief. And perhaps one day in the not too distant future, even better treatments may arise.
If you would like more information on the connection between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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