Your teeth can take decades of daily biting and chewing and not miss a beat. But they do have a nemesis, dental disease, which can easily get the upper hand. As a result, millions of people lose teeth each year to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But while both the living tissue that makes up teeth and gums are susceptible to bacterial attack, the non-living materials in a life-like dental implant are impervious to disease. That being the case, you would think your implants wouldn't need as much hygiene as your other teeth.
But they still do. True, implants in themselves aren't affected by infection, but the bone and other tissues that support them can become diseased. This often happens with advanced cases of gum disease.
There is, in fact, a particular form of gum infection associated with implants called peri-implantitis ("peri"—around; "it is"—inflammation), which occurs in the gums around an implant. Once it starts, peri-implantitis can advance at a rapid pace.
This is because implants don't have the gum attachment of real teeth, which can fight and slow the advance of a gum infection. Because an implant doesn't have this attachment, any infection around it continues virtually unimpeded. If the bone supporting an implant becomes infected, it can weaken to the point that the implant fails.
But this dire scenario can be avoided with continuing hygiene and maintenance of the gum tissues surrounding the implant. You should brush and floss every day around implants to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease, just as you do with natural teeth.
It's also important to keep up regular dental visits for cleanings to remove lingering plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Your dentist may also notice and clean away any residual cement from the restoration, which can also cause gum inflammation.
And, you should promptly see your dentist if you notice any telltale signs of a gum infection, such as swelling, redness or bleeding, especially around implants. The quicker we diagnose and treat a case of gum disease, particularly peri-implantitis, the less likely it will endanger your implant.
Preventing periodontal (gum) disease not only preserves your teeth and gums, it might also benefit the rest of your health. There's growing evidence that gum disease has links to other systemic diseases.
Gum disease usually starts with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, which triggers a bacterial gum infection. Left untreated, the infection advances and steadily breaks down the gums' attachment to teeth.
This can create large ulcerated areas that are too weak to prevent the passing of bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream and other parts of the body. There's growing evidence from epidemiology (the study of the spread and control of disease) that this bloodstream transfer, as well as the inflammation that accompanies gum disease, could affect other body-wide conditions or diseases.
Diabetes. This chronic condition occurs when the body can't adequately produce insulin, a hormone that regulates sugar (glucose) in the blood, or can't respond to it. Diabetes can inhibit healing, cause blindness or lead to death. Both diabetes and gum disease are inflammatory in nature, and there's some evidence inflammation arising from either condition may worsen the other.
Heart disease. Heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death. Like diabetes and gum disease, these heart-related conditions are also characterized by inflammation. There are also specific types of bacteria that arise from gum disease that can travel through the body and increase the risk of heart disease.
Arthritis. An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes debilitating pain, particularly involving the joints, and leads to decreased mobility. Interestingly, many newly diagnosed arthritis patients are also found to have some form of periodontal disease—the two diseases, in fact, follow a similar development track. Although this may hint of a connection, we need more research to determine if there are indeed links between the two diseases.
Regardless of any direct relationships between gum disease and other conditions, preventing and treating it can improve both your oral and general health. You can lower your risk of gum disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And at the first sign of gum problems, see your dentist as soon as possible for early intervention—the earlier the better.
If you would like more information on oral health care, 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
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