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.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
After living with braces for a couple of years, the “big reveal” finally happens and you see your new smile for the first time. But then you’re told you have to wear another mouth appliance—around the clock to start and then just at night. After all the new smile excitement, wearing a retainer can be a little anticlimactic.
But this part of your orthodontic treatment is as important as the earlier tooth movement phase. That’s because your new “forever smile” doesn’t necessarily come with a “forever” guaranty. In fact, your teeth could quickly begin moving back to where they were before braces if you don’t wear a retainer.
The reason why is because of a tough but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. This ligament lies between the teeth and the jawbone, attaching to both through tiny extending fibers. The periodontal ligament actually does most of the anchoring work to hold your teeth in place.
The ligament is also why we’re able to move your teeth to different positions: As braces apply pressure to the teeth and jaw in the direction of desired movement, the ligament remodels itself to allow the teeth to take up these new positions.
The tissues involved, though, still retain a kind of “memory” of where the teeth used to be. This creates an immediate tendency for the teeth to revert to these old positions. To prevent this, we use a retainer that when worn keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they’ve stabilized and the old tissue “memory” fades.
There are different types of retainers, some removable and some fixed in place. Choosing the best one for a particular patient will depend on the complexity of the bite treatment, the patient’s age and level of self-responsibility and the preferences of the orthodontist. Whichever type of retainer you eventually use, it’s important you wear it to preserve all of the time and effort that went into transforming your smile.
Wearing a retainer might not be high on your “exciting things to do” list. But it’s the best way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your new smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on keeping your new smile after braces, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
“That kid is growing like a weed!” Every proud parent likes to hear something like that about their child: It means they’re growing up—and it shows!
As nature takes its course, your child will physically transform into an adult. And that also includes their mouth: By the time they enter early adulthood they will have had two sets of teeth and their jaw structure will have changed dramatically.
All of this happens without you needing to do anything. But there can be bumps along the road like tooth decay or abnormal bite development. For that, you can and should intervene by preventing or at least slowing the formation of such situations.
The best way to do this is to form a partnership with your child’s dentist. Like any partnership, each party contributes something to the relationship.
For you that means first and foremost keeping up your child’s regular oral hygiene practice. This should start even before they begin showing teeth. As an infant you should start wiping their gums after each feeding with a clean wet cloth to hold down bacterial growth. When teeth appear, you can graduate them to brushing and flossing, teaching them along the way to do it for themselves.
You can also boost their dental health by cutting back on sugar consumption, which feeds bacteria. Besides monitoring their snacks, also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula, breast milk, or regular milk). And be sure you provide them a nutritious diet filled with tooth-strengthening foods.
On your dentist’s part, they provide regular cleanings that help ensure decay-causing plaque doesn’t build up on the teeth. They’ll also monitor for any signs of decay, and provide treatment when necessary. To further protect them against decay, dentists can apply sealants and topical fluoride to your child’s teeth, especially if they appear to be at high risk. And they’ll also be watching for early signs of a bite problem: Early intervention could prevent or at least minimize this development.
With that kind of solid partnership, your child’s normal dental development can proceed as smoothly as possible. Avoiding the possible pitfalls will help them achieve optimal oral health now and throughout their lives.
Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.
Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.
There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.
Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.
For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.
One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.
The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
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