Posts for: October, 2018
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
You’re considering dental implants and you’ve done your homework: you know they’re considered the best tooth replacements available prized for durability and life-likeness. But you do have one concern — you have a metal allergy and you’re not sure how your body will react to the implant’s titanium and other trace metals.
An allergy is the body’s defensive response against any substance (living or non-living) perceived as a threat. Allergic reactions can range from a mild rash to rare instances of death due to multiple organ system shutdowns.
A person can become allergic to anything, including metals. An estimated 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while 1-3% of the general population to cobalt and chromium. While most allergic reactions occur in contact with consumer products (like jewelry) or metal-based manufacturing, some occur with metal medical devices or prosthetics, including certain cardiac stents and hip or knee replacements.
There are also rare cases of swelling or rashes in reaction to metal fillings, commonly known as dental amalgam. A mix of metals — mainly mercury with traces of silver, copper and tin — dental amalgam has been used for decades with the vast majority of patients experiencing no reactions. Further, amalgam has steadily declined in use in recent years as tooth-colored composite resins have become more popular.
Which brings us to dental implants: the vast majority are made of titanium alloy. Titanium is preferred in implants not only because it’s biocompatible (it “gets along” well with the body’s immune system), but also because it’s osteophilic, having an affinity with living bone tissue that encourages bone growth around and attached to the titanium. Both of these qualities make titanium a rare trigger for allergies even for people with a known metal allergy.
Still, implant allergic reactions do occur, although in only 0.6% of all cases, or six out of a thousand patients. The best course, then, is to let us know about any metal allergies you may have (or other systemic conditions, for that matter) during our initial consultation for implants. Along with that and other information, we'll be better able to advise you on whether implants are right for you.
If you would like more information on the effects of metal allergies on dental implants, 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 “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
Facing extensive dental treatment can be stressful—and even more so when you realize what it will cost. It’s a hard fact of life, but some dental work can be expensive.
The good news, though, is that it’s possible to keep your costs at a manageable level, even with limited finances. And your best first step is to become proactive with dental care now, before problems appear or get worse.
There are good reasons for making room in your budget for regular dental cleanings and checkups: for one, dental cleanings coupled with your own daily hygiene help keep bacterial plaque, the main cause of dental disease, from causing gum disease or damage to the tooth surfaces. And seeing us regularly makes it more likely we’ll detect a problem before it inflicts too much harm.
Regular visits are also important for establishing a relationship with us. As we become more familiar with you and your own individual risk factors for dental problems, we can then develop a treatment strategy to minimize those risks or take action to decrease their impact.
The latter point has direct bearing on the financial side of your care. It’s tempting to postpone a recommended treatment for a mild to moderate issue because of the expense. But receiving treatment now could save you from major expense later.
Perhaps, though, you’re actually facing that major expense now and the full weight of what it will cost is bearing down. Even in this situation, you may actually find there are less expensive ways to deal with the problem, at least temporarily until you can afford a more permanent solution.
For example, if you’ve lost a tooth or have had it extracted, you may be able to opt for a partial denture or similar less costly restoration—at least for the time being. Eventually, when you’re prepared financially, you can replace it with a dental implant or another permanent restoration. In the meantime, you’re able to regain a reasonable level of dental health.
The key is to invest in your teeth and gums now whatever their state of health. The efforts you make today could save you from a greater health and financial burden tomorrow.