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.”
From a dentist's perspective, toothbrushes have a limited lifespan: Bristles can fray after months of use, rendering them less effective in removing harmful dental plaque. The American Dental Association therefore recommends a new brush at least every three to four months.
From a user's perspective, that's not that big a deal—toothbrushes are relatively inexpensive and plentiful in stores selling oral hygiene products. In fact, many dentists give their patients a new toothbrush after each dental cleaning.
But there's still another perspective: Mother Earth. Too many of those used toothbrushes end up in the trash. With potentially billions of disposed toothbrushes each year, this essential dental care tool could well be a significant contribution to our planet's overflowing waste problem.
Fortunately, you don't have to consign your used toothbrush to the landfill. After a sanitizing run through the dishwasher, there are dozens of ways to re-purpose your old brush. In recognition of Earth Day, April 22, here are a few of them.
Kitchen cleanup tool. Your kitchen is likely filled with various utensils and small appliances like toasters or blenders that contain lots of nooks and crannies. These spaces can quickly fill up with spills or food debris. With their narrow heads and long handles, old toothbrushes are ideal for tidying up your hard-to-clean kitchen equipment.
Tile grout cleaner. Those narrow bristles also make toothbrushes a great tool for cleaning bathroom tile grout. Simply apply your favorite cleaner, or a little baking soda added to water, and let your old toothbrush do the rest. A toothbrush is also handy for cleaning around other tight spaces around the sink, tub or toilet.
Personal hygiene aid. After retiring from teeth cleaning, your brush can still play a role in personal hygiene. Use if for cleaning under fingernails, removing hair from hair brushes or even getting your eyebrows in good order. They're also handy for applying hair dye if you can't lay your hands on the regular application brush.
Miscellaneous task helper. A used toothbrush can be useful for tasks in and out of the house. Inside, it can help you remove your child's crayon art from walls or tackle stubborn clothes stains. Outside, it's handy for cleaning different parts of your car, the soles of your shoes or grimy bicycle chains. When you need something small and narrow, a toothbrush might just fill the bill.
Have more than enough used toothbrushes? Then consider recycling the next one, if your local program allows it. In its separated components your toothbrush can thus continue to be useful—and not another piece of clutter on our beautiful planet.
Imagine that the IRS wants to audit you, but the dog ate your receipts. Or you hit a $50 million Lotto jackpot, but your ticket went through the wash. Or maybe you're about to see your new dentist, but you don't have your past dental records.
Humdrum as they may seem, records are important—so much so that they have their own month. That's right: April is Records and Information Management Month. Though perhaps not as exciting as National Poetry Month, this is still a good time to consider how records keep your life and health on track—especially regarding your mouth.
Your dental records contain information on all your office visits, imaging (yep, all those x-rays), diagnoses and treatments. Just like other healthcare records, they're privacy-protected under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Your dental records may also contain information about other aspects of your overall health that could impact your long-term dental care. With all that information, dental records are important to your ongoing care, and should be available wherever you receive treatment—even if you change to a new dentist.
Which can happen? Your long-time dentist may retire—or maybe you move to another state. You may just decide you'd be happier with another dentist. But regardless of why your provider changes, your dental needs don't.
Without your records, your new dentist starts your care virtually from scratch, having to generate a new patient history and perform additional x-rays or examinations. And they won't have the benefit of nuances available to a dentist who may have treated you for a long time. But with your dental records in hand, they can often pick up where your other dentist left off without missing a beat.
It's in your oral health's best interest, then, to ensure your dental records transfer from your former dentist to your new one. Legally, these records are the property of the dentist, but you're entitled to a copy or to have them transmitted directly to another provider. You may, however, have to pay for any supplies and labor involved with printing, copying or mailing the records.
Do you feel awkward asking your former dentist to send your records to a new one? Not a problem—ask your new dentist to request them for you. Even if you have an unpaid balance, your former dentist is legally required to comply with the transfer.
When it comes to your oral health, “What is past is prologue.” The dental care you receive today and tomorrow depends on the care you received yesterday. Your dental records help make sure it's a seamless progression.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental records, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
“Personalize Your Plate” is the theme for this year's National Nutrition Month in March, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It means there isn't a single diet for all of us: We're each unique with differing body types and tastes, and our diets need to be unique as well. Still, though, you'll want to be sure to include basic nutrients that are generally good for all of us—including for our teeth.
As you “personalize” your daily diet, be sure it includes dental-friendly vitamins and minerals. Here are some of the more important ones that contribute to strong and healthy teeth, and the kinds of foods in which you'll find them.
Vitamin D. This vitamin is a key element for growing and maintaining healthy teeth and bone, mainly by helping the body absorb calcium. You'll find vitamin D in milk, eggs or fatty fish—and you'll also gain a little strolling outdoors in the sunshine!
Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps the body fight free radical molecules that contribute to cancer development, including oral cancer. You'll find vitamin E naturally in seeds and nuts (and derivative cooking oils), wheat germ and whole grains.
Calcium. When included with vitamin D and phosphorus, calcium is an important “construction material” for building strong teeth and bones. You'll find calcium in dairy products like milk and cheese as well as greens, legumes and tofu.
Phosphorus. Eighty-five percent of the body's phosphorus, a companion mineral to calcium, is found in teeth and bones, where it helps to keep them strong and healthy. You'll find this important mineral in meats, milk and eggs.
Magnesium. This mineral helps mineralize teeth and bones, giving them strength and protection against disease. You can get magnesium by eating nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and—if you limit the added sugar content—chocolate.
Fluoride. Most people are familiar with fluoride added to drinking water or toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel against tooth decay, but the mineral also occurs naturally in some foods. You can obtain low amounts of fluoride in seafood and black or green tea.
One last thing! While we're promoting foods that you should eat for healthier teeth, there's also one you'll want to cut back on: processed sugar. This carbohydrate is a major factor in oral bacterial growth that causes tooth decay and gum disease. So, eating foods low in sugar and high in these key vitamins and minerals will help ensure your teeth stay healthy.
If you would like more information about the importance of nutrition in dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
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