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Four Oral Health Issues Seniors Face

April 24th, 2018

Oral health is an important and often overlooked component of an older person’s general health and well-being. Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki and our team know that for many of our older patients, oral health can become an issue when arthritis or other neurological problems render them unable to brush or floss their teeth as effectively as they once did. Today, we thought we would discuss four common oral health issues our older patients face and how they can avoid them:

Cavities: It’s not just children who get tooth decay—oral decay is a common disease in people 65 and older. Ninety-two percent of seniors 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The risk for tooth decay increases because many older adults don’t go to the dentist as often as they used to, thus cavities go undetected and untreated for longer than they should. Keeping regular appointments with Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki is the key to getting cavities treated in a timely manner.

Difficulty eating: Oral health problems, whether from missing teeth, cavities, dentures that don’t fit, gum disease, or infection, can cause difficulty eating and can force people to adjust the quality, consistency, and balance of their diet.

Dry mouth: Also called xerostomia, dry mouth is a common issue for a lot of seniors. Our friends at the Oral Cancer Foundation estimate that 20 percent of elderly people suffer from dry mouth, which means the reduced flow of saliva (saliva plays a crucial role in preventing tooth decay). Many seniors are on multiple medications for a variety of chronic illnesses or conditions. Common medications taken that may cause dry mouth are decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, pain pills, incontinence medications, antidepressants, diuretics, muscle relaxers, and Parkinson’s disease medications. To help counter this, we suggest drinking lots of fluids and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol. We also encourage you to check with Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki during your next visit if you think your medications are causing your mouth to feel dry.

Gum Disease: Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. While gum disease affects people of all ages, it typically becomes worse as people age. In its early stages, gum disease is painless, and most people have no idea that they have it. In more advanced cases, however, gum disease can cause sore gums and pain when chewing.

Gum disease, which can range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease, is usually caused by poor brushing and flossing habits that allow dental plaque to build up on the teeth. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form tartar that brushing simply does not clean. Only a professional cleaning at our office can remove tartar. The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and can bleed easily; in periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces that become infected.

Proper brushing, flossing, and visiting our office regularly can prevent gum disease. Seniors with limited dexterity who have trouble gripping a toothbrush should ask Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki about modifying a handle for easier use or switching to a battery-powered toothbrush.

Can I use mouthwash instead of flossing?

April 17th, 2018

While mouthwash goes a long way in improving your oral care, it is not a substitute for flossing. Mouthwashes and flossing provide different benefits that you should understand.

Mouthwash Benefits

Mouthwash comes in two categories. Some are considered cosmetic. This type of rinse provides temporary relief from bad breath and has a pleasant taste. These do not actually kill any bacteria.

Therapeutic mouthwashes provide the healthier benefits. These may contain different ingredients including fluoride or antimicrobial agents. This type is used to remove plaque buildup and reduce the potential for calculus formation. Therapeutic rinses can also help prevent cavities, bad breath, and gingivitis. In addition, Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki can prescribe special rinses to assist patients after periodontal surgery or other procedures.

Flossing Benefits

Flossing is what removes the plaque formation before it can harden and become calculus. While a rinse reduces buildup, only flossing will fully remove plaque, especially between teeth. The bristles on a toothbrush do not get between teeth completely. If plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar or calculus. When this builds below the gum line, gum disease can start.

Types of Floss

Floss is available in a thin string form or a tape. It can be waxed or unwaxed. If you find flossing difficult, you might want to try a different type of floss. You can buy bulk floss in containers or purchase the disposable type with a plastic handle attached. This style can be easier for many individuals to use. Interdental picks are available for bridgework or other situations where regular floss cannot be used.

If you have questions regarding the best mouthwash or floss, or need tips for easier flossing, please ask our Lake Arrowhead, CA team for advice. We will be glad to give you solutions to help keep your mouth clean and healthy.

How long will a root canal last?

April 10th, 2018

According to the American Association of Endodontists, root canals have a success rate of over 95% and in most cases they last a lifetime.

There are a few factors that ensure the root canal will last and should be followed.

  • You want to make sure you allow Dr. Hugh A. Bialecki to perform a permanent restoration of the tooth. That means getting the filling and the crown immediately after the canals have been cleaned of all bacteria and debris.
  • Practice good oral hygiene; that means brushing and flossing at least three times a day especially after meals and before bed.
  • Just because a tooth has had a root canal that does not mean the tooth is safe for as long as it remains in your mouth. That tooth can still get a cavity. Since the nerves are no longer present in that tooth you will not feel any pain or experience any other signs of a cavity. That’s why it is important to get regular cleanings and checkups.
  • If the tooth becomes fractured or you develop an abscess, you will feel pain and know there is a problem with the tooth.

Why do root canals fail?

As mentioned above, only about five percent of root canals fail, and sometimes it is not actually a “failure.” In cases, of teeth that have more than one root, it is possible that only one root was infected and filled. If the remaining root(s) become infected in the future, they will also need a root canal performed on them.

There are a few other reasons why your root canal may fail:

  • The first reason is you may not have taken good care of your tooth (teeth). This is commonly seen in children and teens who often have inconsistent oral hygiene habits.
  • If the tooth has more than one root, and one of the roots has a minute infection that is undetectable and goes unnoticed it can cause the root canal to fail. While this scenario is very unlikely, it does occasionally happen.
  • Over time, the seal can become weak and bacteria can enter the tooth. This is also very uncommon but it does happen.

No procedure dental or medical comes with a 100% guarantee to last a lifetime, but if you take care of your treated tooth, the chances of success are great.

If you have any additional questions about root canals and your oral health, be sure to ask a member of our team at our Lake Arrowhead, CA office.

Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April 3rd, 2018

Happy Oral Cancer Awareness Month! We know oral cancer can be kind of a scary topic, but it’s worth using this opportunity to learn about the disease and spread knowledge so everyone becomes more aware. The more we know, the better we can work to prevent it!

Oral cancer is exactly what it sounds like: cancer that occurs anywhere in the mouth. It could occur on the tongue, the lips, the gums, the tongue, inside the cheek, or in the roof or floor of the mouth. Every  year, more than 8,000 people die from oral cancer. It’s a truly deadly disease.

The reason oral cancer scores a higher death rate than other common cancers such as testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, thyroid cancer, cervical cancer, or even skin cancer, is because it often goes undetected until it's become too advanced and has spread to another part of the body.

So what causes this devastating disease? There is no clear answer, but some potential causes have been identified. By being aware of these, we can be alert and promote prevention of this illness:

  • Age: Most patients who develop oral cancer are above the age of 40. If you’re over 40, make sure your doctor checks for signs of oral cancer and that you stay on your dental hygiene regimen.
  • Tobacco: Excessive tobacco use, whether in the form of cigarette smoking or tobacco chewing, can be a substantial contributor and cause of oral cancer. So that’s another reason, among many, you should avoid tobacco.
  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can put you at risk because alcohol converts into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which damages the body’s DNA and blocks cells from repairing the damage. When paired with tobacco, the dehydrating effects of alcohol make it even easier for tobacco to infiltrate mouth tissue.
  • Sun exposure: Your lips need SPF, too! Repeated sun exposure increases your risk of contracting cancer on your lips, especially the lower lip.
  • Diet: Not getting all the nutrients you need, from vegetables and fruits for instance, can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to the disease.

Obviously, many of these causes relate to lifestyle choices, which we have control over. It's all about balance, being aware, and making small tweaks to our habits if we need to.

If you’re concerned that you may be at risk for oral cancer, give us a call to talk about a screening. And if you’ve been putting off a visit to our Lake Arrowhead, CA office, now is an excellent time to schedule one. Regular visits to the dentist can be the first line of defense against oral cancer!

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