Aging Parents: Older Teeth and Sugary Holiday Treats

  • mall desserts $ 42 large desserts $ 78

A visit to my dentist and his hygienist compelled me to ask about older people’s teeth. My dentist’s (and his wife’s) parents are in their 80’s. I wondered if aging took its toll on teeth–and if so, why.

My first question was to the hygienist who I always see first. It was something like: Do older people’s teeth present different problems than younger people’s teeth?

Thus began a conversation about–
1. Holding a tooth-brush correctly so older people can do a thorough brushing
2. Dry mouth (xerostomia)–not uncommon as people age.

The hygienist told me she learned many years ago that tooth-brushes can be difficult for old, arthritic hands to grasp. The suggestion was to securely tape the tooth-brush to something allowing for a larger grip–like a soda can. Her second suggestion was an electric tooth brush, but that has drawbacks if older people don’t use it correctly.

I didn’t realize brushing could be a problem, but now I’m certain it is. Asking Sr. Advisor R (101) about it, I learned her dentist said she wasn’t brushing as well as she once could and recommended rinsing her mouth with Biotene. There are quite a few Biotene products–one especially for dry mouth and one with PBF; the latter Sr. Advisor R uses. It would seem worthwhile to check this out.

When my dentist came to do the final check of my teeth, he weighed in, giving me a paper he wrote entitled Dry Mouth and Dentures. (It will be the subject of another post). Readers may already know this, but I learned:

Our salivary glands produce less saliva as we age. And “saliva,” according to Dr. Gary Markovits, “contains hundreds of the body’s ‘natural medicines’ designed to keep our mouths healthy……. It also regulates the microorganisms (‘germs’) that cause oral infections.” Thus, dry mouth makes us more prone to oral infections.

“If you have some natural teeth,” Dr. Markovits writes in his Dry Mouth and Dentures piece, “decay is the most frequent cause of tooth loss in older adults who have a dry mouth. Without saliva to regulate the germs that cause decay, they are able to grow in number and cause more damage. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for ways to reduce tooth decay.”

It’s not only aging that can cause dry mouth.  Certain medications as well as chemotherapy and radiation cause glands to produce less saliva. WebMD, in its slideshow on teeth and gums, sums it all up and identifies medications that can cause dry mouth (slides 3 and 4):

“Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.”

Which brings us to the holidays and the sweet treats and excessive amounts of food that tempt young and old. If older people we care about have teeth problems, this seems like a good time to be proactive and check out the above with your dentist or have your parents do it with their dentist.

As we try to help parents and the older people we care about age well, a good offense is the best defense. If the above information can improve the odds for older peoples’ teeth remaining healthy while they enjoy eating whatever they want, isn’t it a win-win!

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.





Aging and Teeth (Broken Crown)–2: Important Factors in Treating Old/Older People + New Technology

Sr. Advisor R had a problem. The crown on her tooth broke. She didn’t want to sit in a dental chair and experience an “ordeal,” as she put it, which I’m sure it is for a woman who’s 100. While R makes every effort to take good care of herself, deciding about options (extract tooth, make new crown using new technology, or using traditional technology) was causing stress.

A relative living in Washington state, weighed in. She just had the newest technology for crown restoration, using CAD/CAM computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing. The new crown was made during the appointment; she went home “all fixed up.” All went well.

NY Times October 8, 2013 column describes the procedure. It requires only one appointment. That is very appealing to an old person. In the end, however, Sr. Advisor R chose to have the traditional “tried and true” method.

I discussed Sr. Advisor R with my dentist, Gary Markovits, DDS. He’s highly experienced, skilled, comes from a dental family, and is sensitive to old people’s needs (his wife’s parents are in their 80’s). I wanted to know if old/older patients need special consideration.

“For our senior patient population,” he says “it’s important to:

1. Keep treatment time as brief as possible.
2. Reduce recurrent and repetitive procedures, such as anesthesia and office visits.
3. Complete treatment quickly and thus, as cost effectively as possible.”

Since he has the CAD/CAM technology, I also asked for a brief explanation.

While CAD/CAM technology clearly provides the potential to achieve the above for elders, there’s a reality that Dr. Markovits reminds us of through an analogy:

“Technological advancements don’t necessarily lead to improvements in quality. When there’s a human operator at some level, “quality” may be enhanced by improved technologies but these tools are only as good as their user.  An average carpenter using state of the art tools will likely continue to produce average work, whereas a master carpenter using basic or even out dated tools will likely still produce high quality work.”

That said, Dr. Markovits explains that there are additional factors to consider when (in this instance) making a crown. “Since each case has its own requirements, one technology can’t necessarily be applied to all situations, he says.”

For example, just-taken X-rays, visual inspection of the tooth (with crown removed if that tooth is causing problems), and a digital laser scanner’s 3-D imaging, may reveal new issues, which make it unwise to put a permanent crown in place that very day. Thus a temporary crown is put on the tooth because the 1-visit CAD/CAM crown replacement isn’t appropriate; and at least one more appointment is necessary before a permanent crown can be put in place.

TEETH. Probably not the first thing we think about when our goal is to help parents age as well as possible. That said, our having the preceding general information –and staying abreast of the new dental technology–will no doubt come in handy for our elders now and as they continue to age.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information,  research from top universities, plus some some fun stuff–-to help parents age well.