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. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them 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 replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, 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) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach 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. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported 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 after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
Every May, the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association asks people around the world to spread awareness of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Anyone with fibromyalgia and its associated joint and muscle pain knows all too well how chronic pain can disrupt everyday life. And as we see frequently in the dental office, people contending with the jaw pain and dysfunction associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can equally relate.
But here’s the kicker—if you’ve been diagnosed with either TMD or fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re also dealing with both conditions. For example, in one recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients, two-thirds reported also having fibromyalgia or similar kinds of health issues. Researchers are looking intently at possible connections between TMD and fibromyalgia since understanding any potential link between the two might open the door to new ways of treatment.
Fibromyalgia patients experience frequent muscle spasms and fatigue throughout their bodies, coupled with other problems like sleeplessness and memory difficulties. Most researchers today believe it’s caused by a malfunction within the central nervous system (CNS) to process pain. Those working with TMD research are also considering whether the same type of malfunction contributes to jaw joint pain and dysfunction.
TMD is an umbrella term for various disorders involving the jaw joints and associated muscles. When you come to the dental office, it is important that we know about any TMD pain you may be experiencing because this can affect your dental visits. For example, people with TMD may have trouble holding their mouth open for an extended period of time, so we can adjust dental exams and treatments accordingly. Also, we will want to look for underlying dental conditions that may have contributed to your TMD.
If you’re experiencing both TMD and fibromyalgia symptoms, be sure you let us as well as your rheumatologist know the various symptoms you’re experiencing with each condition, the treatments you’re undergoing and the medications you’re taking.
For TMD in particular, here are a few things you can do to reduce its impact on your daily life:
- Avoid foods that require heavy chewing or jaw widening;
- Use thermal therapies like warm compresses or ice packs to ease jaw stiffness and pain;
- Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress in your life;
- Ask about muscle relaxants or other medications that might help.
You may find that some of these practices, particularly stress reduction, are also helpful in managing fibromyalgia. And if there is a deeper connection between TMD and fibromyalgia, unraveling the mystery could hopefully lead to even greater relief for both.
If you would like more information about managing your symptoms, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions” and “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
April is National Stress Awareness Month. But what does stress have to do with dentistry? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if you have a Type A personality or are under a lot of stress, you are more likely to suffer from a condition called bruxism, which means you habitually grind or gnash your teeth. One in ten adults grind their teeth, and the rate is much higher in stressful professions. In fact, the bruxism rate is seven times higher among police officers!
Many people grind their teeth in their sleep without realizing it, so how would you know if you are a "sleep bruxer"? If your spouse frequently elbows you in the ribs because of the grinding sounds you make, that could be your first clue. Unfortunately, dental damage is another common sign. Some people find out they are nighttime teeth grinders only when they are examined by a dentist since bruxing often leads to wear patterns on the teeth that only happen because of this behavior. Other complications can also develop: The condition can interfere with sleep, result in headaches and cause soreness in the face, neck or jaw. Chronic or severe nighttime teeth grinding can damage dental work, such as veneers, bridgework, crowns and fillings, and can result in teeth that are worn down, chipped, fractured or loose.
The most common treatment is a custom-made night guard made of high-impact plastic that allows you to sleep while preventing your upper and lower teeth from coming into contact. Although a night guard will protect your teeth and dental work, it won't stop the grinding behavior. Therefore, finding and treating the cause should be a priority.
The Bruxism Association estimates that 70 percent of teeth grinding behavior is related to stress. If you are a bruxer, you can try muscle relaxation exercises, stretching and breathing exercises, stress reduction techniques and, where feasible, any lifestyle changes that can allow you to reduce the number of stressors in your life. Prescription muscle relaxants may also help. In addition, teeth grinding may be related to sleep apnea. This possibility should be investigated since sleep apnea can have some serious health consequences—we offer effective treatments for this condition as well.
We can spot signs of bruxism, so it's important to come in for regular dental checkups. We look for early indications of dental damage and can help you protect your smile. If you have questions about teeth grinding or would like to discuss possible symptoms, please contact our office or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can 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.”
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.
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