Unlike the natural tooth it replaces, a dental implant is impervious to decay. But don’t think that means you can relax your oral hygiene habits — even though the implant itself can’t be infected, the surrounding gum tissues and bone can. And if they’re not properly cared for you might eventually lose the implant.
In fact, implants may be more susceptible to problems from impacted food that becomes wedged between the gums and teeth than their natural counterparts. Natural teeth are connected to the jaw by way of a resilient, elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament: the ligament resides in the space between the tooth root and the bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The bone and ligament are protected by an attachment of gum tissue that covers all of the surrounding bone and attaches to the root surface. The outer gum tissue surface is covered by a protein called keratin that makes it resistant to wear.
On the other hand, these periodontal ligament fibers don’t exist when implants are present as the implant is fastened directly to the bone. Because it doesn’t have this ligament attachment, and the gum tissues around can’t attach to the implant as with natural teeth, it may be more vulnerable to bacteria or trauma caused by food impaction. So, cleaning and caring for dental implants is just as important, if not more so than with natural teeth.
If the gums around an implant become infected and inflamed it could lead to peri-implantitis, a condition that can destroy the bone attachment between the implant and the bone. In other words, the loss of bone support can weaken the integration of the implant with the bone. As more and more attachment is lost, the implant can loosen and eventually be lost.
The best way to avoid this is with consistent daily hygiene and regular dental checkups. And, if you notice any signs of swelling or redness of the gums around an implant, contact us as soon as possible. The sooner we begin treatment to alleviate the infection, the less danger there will be of losing your implant.
If you would like more information on how to care for dental implants and other 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 “Infections around Implants.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them as soon as possible.
There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth, including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures:
Removable dentures are the classic replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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.”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
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