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’re thinking about getting dental implants, you’re in good company. Dentists have placed more than 3 million of these popular devices since their introduction in the early 1980s.
But if you have multiple missing teeth, you might think the cost of all those individual implants could put them out of your league. Yes, replacing multiple teeth with individual implants can be quite expensive—but implant technology isn’t limited to one tooth at a time. A few well-placed implants can impart their proven durability and stability to other types of restorations.
For example, we can incorporate implants into a bridge for a series of missing teeth. Conventional bridges are normally fixed in place by altering and then crowning natural teeth on each side of the missing teeth gap with a fixed row of prosthetic (false) teeth in the middle to fill it. Instead, two implants placed at the ends of the gap can support the bridge rather than natural teeth. This not only provides greater stability for the bridge, it also avoids permanent altering the natural teeth that would have been used.
Implants can also support a fixed bridge to restore complete tooth loss on a jaw. The new bridge is attached to a few strategically placed implants along the jaw line to equally distribute biting forces. This can result in a strong hold with excellent durability.
We can also use implants to improve traditional dentures. Dentures normally rest directly on the gums’ bony ridges, depending on a snug fit for stability. But bone loss, a natural consequence of missing teeth, can still occur while wearing dentures, which may in fact accelerate the rate of loss due to the appliance’s constant pressure and friction against the gums.
Instead, just a few implants placed along the jaw can, with attachments built into the denture, hold it securely in place. This not only decreases the pressure on the gums, but the natural bone growth that occurs around the implant may even deter bone loss.
Depending on your situation, there could be a viable restoration solution involving implants. Visit our office for a complete examination and evaluation to see if implants could help change your smile forever.
If you would like more information on implant restorations, 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 “Dental Implants 101: the Most Significant Innovation in the Past Century.”
With the major changes in healthcare over the last few years, much of what we understand about insurance has been turned on its head. The term “Insurance” now often means something much different than how it’s traditionally understood.
Dental insurance is a prime example. Rather than a means to protect the insured from unforeseen costs, most dental policies work more like discount coupons. The vast majority are paid by employers as a salary benefit to reduce but rarely eliminate an employee’s treatment costs.
In fact, paying dental insurance premiums yourself may not be cost-effective. The average person spends $200 a year on basic care, while a typical policy costs $500 or more annually. Even if the plan fully paid for basic items like cleanings and checkups, the total cost with insurance can still be greater than paying out of pocket. Most plans also have deductibles — the fee portion the patient is responsible to pay — and annual maximum benefit limits of typically $1,200 or $1,500. With rising dental costs, these deductibles and limits may not be adequate.
There are also different types of plans, such as direct reimbursement or managed care. Under the former your employer is actually paying the claims from company funds — the insurance company acts as an administrator. The latter type packages services with select providers: the out-of-pocket costs are lower but your choices of provider are usually limited to those in their network — which on a new plan may not be the family dentist you’ve seen for years.
If you have a private plan, you should look carefully at your total costs, including premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, and compare those with projected costs without it. If you’re on an employer-paid plan, then be sure you understand it fully, especially any limits or restrictions. Also, speak with your dentist’s business staff to see how you can get the most out of the plan — dental offices work every day with insurance companies and know how to maximize your benefits.
Remember too that regular office visits for cleanings and checkups — as well as your own daily hygiene practices — are the best way to reduce long-term dental costs. Taking care of your teeth with preventive care will help ensure you’re not dipping into your own wallet — with or without insurance — more than you should.
If you would like more information on managing dental costs, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Insurance 101.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
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