Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to spotlight an often unsung group: individuals providing primary care for another family member. During November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes those caring for children with special needs or senior adults with life challenges—and part of that ongoing care includes watching out for their loved one's oral health.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy requires a concerted personal effort to prevent dental disease. While most of us can handle this on our own, some need assistance. If you're caring for someone like this, be sure you focus on two main areas: daily hygiene and regular dental visits. These are the two foundation stones for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
The relatively simple tasks of brushing and flossing are crucial for disease prevention—but they can pose a challenge for someone with diminished physical, mental or behavioral capacity. In some cases, you as a caregiver may have to perform the task for them.
But even someone with severe limitations may be able to do these tasks for themselves with some adaptations. For one, choose a place for brushing and flossing that's most comfortable for the person (not necessarily the bathroom) and keep to a routine schedule. Above all, approach the task in a positive and playful way, especially for children.
Choose a toothbrush and flosser that your loved one can easily handle. Flossers are also available with toothbrush-sized grips for those with less manual dexterity. An older person with arthritis may need an extra-large grip or a toothbrush modified with a bicycle handle. As an alternative, both children and older adults may benefit from using an electric toothbrush. Some special needs children can have a gag response to toothpaste, so you may wish to use less or substitute it with a diluted fluoride mouthwash on the brush.
Dry mouth is a concern among many older adults, often due to the medications they take. In fact, hundreds of medications can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva serves the important oral health function of washing away food debris and neutralizing acid in the mouth, but when saliva production is low, it is not only uncomfortable—it greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. To help with dry mouth, encourage your loved one to drink more water during the day and ask us to recommend a product that will boost their saliva production. You can also ask their physicians about drug alternatives without dry mouth side effects.
To make dental visits easier, be sure we know about any needs or conditions that might affect their care. If possible, accompany your older family member during their visit: Because health problems often increase with age, even routine visits may be more involved.
We understand that caring for family members who need assistance can be demanding, with needs often being prioritized. We urge you to keep dental care on the high-priority list—it could make a difference with the rest of their health and overall quality of life.
If you would like more information about oral care for a family member with special needs, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
Even after losing a tooth in an on-court collision with an opposing player, Isaiah Thomas didn’t slow down. The Boston Celtics point guard completed the play…and the rest of the game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of his dental problems — it was just the beginning.
Over the next few days, Thomas had a total of ten hours of oral surgery to treat problems with multiple teeth. He got a temporary bridge, and will receive a permanent one at a later date. He also got fitted for a custom-made mouthguard to prevent re-injury.
We’re pleased to see that Thomas is getting appropriate dental treatment. But it’s unfortunate that he didn’t get the mouthguard sooner; this one piece of inexpensive safety gear could have saved him a lot of pain and trouble. If you think mouthguards are strictly for full-contact sports, Thomas’ troubles should make you think again. In fact, according to a 2015 study in the journal Sports Health, the five sports with the highest overall risk of tooth loss are basketball, football, hockey, martial arts, and boxing. Plenty of other also involve the risk of dental injury.
The study also notes that some 5 million teeth are avulsed (knocked out) each year in the U.S. alone. Countless others are loosened, fractured or chipped. What’s more, it is estimated that the lifetime cost of treating an avulsed tooth is between $5,000 and $20,000. The cost of a custom-made mouthguard is just a small fraction of that.
Where can you or your child get a custom-made mouthguard? Right here at the dental office! These high-quality items are professionally fabricated from a model of your actual teeth, so they fit much better than an off-the-shelf one ever could. They offer superior protection, durability and comfort — because, after all, no mouthguard can protect you if it’s too uncomfortable to wear.
Thomas’ season is now over due to a hip injury, but at least he will now have time to rest and get his dental problems taken care of. Let’s hope his story will inspire more athletes — both professional and amateur — to prevent similar problems by wearing custom-made mouthguards. Whether you compete on a school team, enjoy a pick-up game after work, or play in the big leagues, a dental injury is one problem that you don’t need.
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria—millions of them. But don't be alarmed: Most are benign or even beneficial. There are, however, some bacteria that cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which can damage your oral health.
These disease-causing bacteria feed and multiply within a thin biofilm of leftover food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. To reduce these bacterial populations—and thus your disease risk—you'll need to keep plaque from building up through daily brushing and flossing.
Now, there's brushing and flossing—and then there's effective brushing and flossing. While both tasks are fairly simple to perform, there are some things you can do to maximize plaque removal.
Regarding the first task, you should brush once or twice a day unless your dentist advises otherwise. And "Easy does it" is the rule: Hard, aggressive scrubbing can damage your gums. A gentle, circular motion using a good quality toothbrush will get the job done. Just be sure to brush all tooth surfaces, including the nooks and crannies along the biting surfaces. On average, a complete brushing session should take about two minutes.
You should also floss at least once a day. To begin with, take about 18" of thread and wrap each end around an index or middle finger. Pulling taut and using your thumbs to help maneuver the thread, ease the floss between teeth. You then wrap it around each tooth side to form a "C" shape and gently slide the floss up and down. Continue on around until you've flossed between each tooth on both jaws.
You can get a rough idea how well you did after each hygiene session by rubbing your tongue against your teeth—they should feel slick and smooth. If you feel any grittiness, some plaque still remains. Your dentist can give you a more precise evaluation of your cleaning effectiveness at your regular dental visits. This is also when they'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque and tartar.
While professional dental cleanings are important, what you do every day to remove plaque is the real game changer for optimum oral health. Becoming a brushing and flossing "ninja" is the best way to keep your healthy smile.
If you would like more information on daily oral 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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