By: Drs. Lachot & Loo, DDS, for SENIOR Magazine (Scottsdale edition)
The importance of regular three to six month visits to your dentist cannot be underestimated. Older patients are very susceptible to caries and periodontal disease. Caries is decay of the tooth structure that results from bacterial acid production. This bacterium resides in the dental plaque and bio-film that is on and in between teeth. Contributing factors include inadequate oral hygiene, salivary gland dysfunction causing dry mouth, infrequent dental exams and cleanings, and insufficient use of fluoride containing products.
Many people find that as they get older, they begin to have difficulty maintaining good oral hygiene. This is especially true if they are afflicted with arthritis. Arthritis can impair the ability to properly clean teeth with a manual toothbrush. Thankfully there are electric tooth brushes available such as those made by Sonicare or Oral B. The use of these types of brushes offer the user up to 70% more effective brushing than with the old manual technique.
Floss aids such as floss holders, super floss, toothpicks, or flexible plastic inter-dental picks also can aide in the removal of inter-dental plaque. Failure to adequately remove bacterial plaque from teeth will lead to increased incidental decay and periodontal disease. The use of antimicrobial and anti-plaque rinses can also be effective in fighting bacterium.
As the population ages, there is an increased incidence in medical prescriptions given. With most drugs there are positive effects and, unfortunately, negative side effects. One of the most common negative side effects is xerostomia, which is a drying of the mouth from reduced saliva production. With inadequate saliva production, there is a failure to buffer the acids present in the mouth that are produced by the bacterial plaque bio-film. This failure leads to enamel and dentinal breakdown or decay.
Xerostomia can also lead to difficulty in swallowing, eating and speaking, and oral fungal infections. Some of the most common drugs that cause xerostomia are antihistamines, antihypertensives, antidepressants, analgesics, tranquilizers and diuretics. Although prescription and over the counter drugs are the most common cause of xerostomia, medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also contributors.
Due to the above problems that are associated with lack of proper hygiene and complications with medication that will lead to recurrent decay and dry mouth, frequent visits with the dentist and dental hygienist is highly recommended. This allows for proper monitoring and prevention which may possibly include necessary x-rays or radiographs to check all teeth. A dental laser called a Diagnodent can assist dentists in diagnosing early decayed areas.
These regular exams are important in detecting other problems in early stages, such as oral cancers. More than one-half of oral cancer cases occur in people over 65 years of age and the median 5-year survival rate is only about 50 percent. Oral cancers are typically asymptomatic and go unchecked until they become large or ulcerate enough to be seen or noticed. The main sign is a red or white ulceration in the mouth, throat or on the lips.that does not heal. Obviously early detection by a dentist is the key to have a good prognosis and maximal quality of life.
When left untreated dental caries or cavities become extensive leading to structural tooth loss that impairs chewing, swallowing and speaking. These results can also lead to nutritional deficiencies by limiting the patient’s ability to eat and limiting their dietary selection. Depending on how extensive and how deep the tooth loss is, treatment can vary from a single composite filling, porcelain onlay, crown, root canal therapy, or extraction.
New technologies such as CEREC one-visit metal-free bonded crowns can provide many advantages especially when enough tooth loss necessitates an onlay or crown treatment. CEREC’s Cad-Cam technology allows a crown to be made by a computer and milled out of a pure block of ceramic porcelain while the patient waits. Since the crown is made in one visit, it saves the patient a lot of time and eliminates potential discomfort that wearing a temporary crown often causes.
Your dentist is in practice to assist you in the prevention of tooth decay, periodontal disease and screening for oral cancers. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms schedule a visit with your dentist today.
The full-service dentistry of Drs. Bruce J. Lachot, DDS and Kent C. Loo, DDS are available by calling 480-515-1000.