Keep your smile: Oral symptoms can be indicator of serious health condition

Good oral health, regardless of age, is integral to overall good health.

This important component of heath is often an overlooked aspect of a baby boomer’s general health. Good oral health, including regular dental care, must be a lifetime commitment. Unfortunately, for many adults, oral health care is a luxury.

Daily oral hygiene (brushing, flossing and denture care), access to oral health services and oral health education are all key factors that can improve the oral health of the baby boomer generation.

Too many older adults suffer from long-term oral pain and periodontal disease, severely limiting regular activities and maybe even impeding their independence. And it is commonplace to ignore dental symptoms, putting off making a dental appointment until it becomes an emergency. Others are unaware of long-term health consequences. A survey commissioned by the Academy of General Dentistry, demonstrated that 63 percent of boomers – people born from 1946 to 1964 – with an oral symptom considered to be a key indicator of a more serious health condition were unaware of the symptom’s link to the condition. Severe gum disease, for example, can exacerbate serious and complicated overall health problems that increase with age, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease.

Whether caring for natural teeth or dentures, daily oral hygiene can mean adults of all ages will be free of oral pain, can maintain a well-balanced diet and can have a positive self-image. Without practicing good oral health, advancing age may put adults at risk for a number of oral health problems, including:

  • Dry mouth (often a side effect of medications).
  • Diminished sense of taste (also a side effect of some medications).
  • Root decay (which can worsen with heavy brushing technique).
  • Gingivitis and periodontal disease, sometimes known as gum disease.
  • Uneven jawbone caused by tooth loss.
  • Denture-induced tissue inflammation.
  • Overgrowth of fungus in the mouth, known as thrush.
  • Attrition (loss of teeth structure by mechanical forces).
  • Oral cancer (early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for these cancers).

Best practices in oral hygiene through our boomer years can preserve our smile and maintain a healthy active lifestyle throughout our senior years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of people age 65 and older have no remaining teeth. Nearly one-third of older adults have untreated tooth decay. Poor oral health – either from neglect or lack of access – may result in the deterioration of overall physical health.

Oral health problems make it more difficult for adults to consume a healthy diet. Oral health-related physical factors directly affecting nutrition include changes in chewing ability, dry mouth, untreated tooth decay, loose or missing teeth, dentures or implants, and ill-fitting bridges or dentures. Regular oral health care can improve and prevent oral health problems.

Good oral hygiene, choosing a healthy lifestyle and getting regular dental checkups – for most adults, this means at least once a year – are all important steps to a healthy mouth.

While it can be difficult for some people to access medical care, it can be even more difficult to access the oral health care system. Barriers to accessing affordable oral health care include:

  • Busy lifestyle.
  • Cost of oral health care.
  • Limited or lack of dental coverage in work-site benefit plan.
  • Oral health programs that offer affordable services.
  • Limited dental insurance for retirees (not included in Medicare).
  • iving on a fixed income.
  • Mobility/transportation limitations.

Many boomers are caring for their parents or older friends and relatives. Accessing dental care can be especially difficult for nursing home residents. Surveys have shown that nursing home residents with teeth suffer particularly from untreated tooth decay, while those without teeth also have a variety of oral health problems. This lack of access to oral health care is compounded by a shortage of skilled geriatric dental care professionals.

Resources are available to help overcome barriers to accessing affordable oral health care.

Community health centers care for people even if they have no dental health insurance, and can provide preventive and basic dental care. There are also a number of local dentists willing to treat Medicaid patients.

Other options to help overcome barriers include contacting the state or local chapter of the American Dental Association and reading “Finding Low-Cost Dental Care,” a resource from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Even with regular checkups and good habits, dental problems can still occur. If you notice anything out of the ordinary with your teeth, gums or tongue, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. It is important not to ignore such problems. Don’t wait for your next scheduled appointment. Pick up the phone and talk with your dental provider. Issues are easier to treat the sooner they are caught, and unnecessary discomfort can be avoided.

Don’t put your dental health on the back burner. It’s not too late to start taking care of that smile and increase your chances of improved overall health to enjoy life to the fullest.




7 Ways to Save on Dental Care

Don’t have dental coverage? You’re in good company. 

The National Association of Dental Plans reports that in 2012, more than 40 percent of Americans lacked dental coverage. The Affordable Care Act now requires that all individual and small group market plans cover pediatric oral health services but not adult oral health.

Even for those who do have dental coverage, most plans only cover up to $1,000 per year – a maximum that hasn’t increased since the 1970s, according to Matt Messina, a dentist in Cleveland, Ohio. “Even though the cost of care has increased, [the maximum] hasn’t changed,” he says. “In the 1970s, that would generally take care of anything other than a massive injury.” Nowadays, a single crown could easily max out those benefits, potentially requiring you to make up the difference out of pocket.  

These seven tips could help you take a bite out of dental costs. 


1. Commit to preventive care. If you don’t have dental coverage, paying out of pocket for cleanings could save you money down the line. Barring that, make sure you’re still brushing and flossing carefully. “The absolute cheapest way to make your own dental experience better is to commit to brushing, flossing your teeth and eating a healthy diet,” Messina says. “Those are pennies a day that breed dollars of savings later on. The cheapest cavity is the one you never get.” 

[Read: 5 Ways to Cut Medical Costs.]

2. Ask about discounts. Some dentists offer services on a sliding scale for patients with financial need or discounts for upfront payment in full. Kendra Lawyer, office manager for Carothers Parkway General Dentistry in Franklin, Tennessee, says her office offers a 20 percent discount for patients without insurance who pay cash upfront. If you have multiple children who need braces, talk to your orthodontist about possible discounts for multiple patients. David Osherow, an orthodontist in Darien, Connecticut, says he even gave a discount when he treated triplets and quadruplets who needed braces. 
3. Look into financing. Some dentists offer low- or no-interest financing plans. Osherow’s office, for instance, lets patients create a budget plan and pay over 15 to 20 months instead of covering orthodontia all at once. Even if there’s no interest, make sure you can realistically afford the payments, as missed payments may trigger a higher interest rate. 

4. Get a treatment plan in writing. Unlike a restaurant, where you can see the prices listed on a menu, dental care doesn’t have the same level of transparency. Ask for a treatment plan in writing with an itemized list of costs so you know what to expect, and talk through these costs with your dentist or orthodontist to see if there might be less-expensive options. Orthodontists now offer many types of braces with differing costs. Braces hidden behind the teeth are the most expensive option, followed by Invisalign and ceramic braces, Osherow says. “You can save money by going with traditional metal brackets,” he explains. Materials for fillings or crowns may have different associated costs as well. 

5. Visit a dental school. If you live near a dental school, find out if it offers free or inexpensive cleanings to the public. Messina says students perform work “under the supervision of licensed dentists, so you’ll get a high quality of dental work done.” However, the cleaning may take several hours (or even multiple visits), because students are expected to take their time and check every inch of your mouth carefully. “You’re trading time for money,” Messina explains. 
6. Use flexible spending dollars. If your employer offers a flexible spending account, you can fund the account with pretax dollars to pay for out-of-pocket medical costs like dental work. However, you need to predict your costs for the year in advance so that you don’t overfund the account and wind up losing unused money unless your employer offers a grace period or carry-over option. Patients with FSAs may especially benefit from treatment plans, Messina says. “If we can look at long-term planning, people can fund their FSAs and prepare in advance,” he says. 
7. Time elective procedures. FSAs max out at $2,500 for the year, and most dental plans max out at $1,000. For pricey dental procedures that require multiple steps, you may be able to space out the steps over several months to max out dental coverage and FSA dollars. As Lawyer points out, most benefits reset at the beginning of the calendar year, which works out for some procedures. “We could place implants in the summer or fall,” Lawyer says. “Those need time to heal and integrate, so most oral surgeons are fine if you wait until January [to place the permanent crown].”

Finally, here are two strategies that many dentists don’t recommend: dental tourism and Groupon vouchers. Traveling overseas could save you money on pricey procedures like implants, but it carries some additional risks (not to mention the added travel costs). “If you are going abroad for major surgical procedures, what happens if you have a complication while you’re there?” Messina asks. “Or worse, when you get back?” Although many countries do have highly qualified dentists, he also points out that American standards governing dentists don’t extend beyond the U.S. border, so you may not have much recourse in court if things go wrong. 

Coupon websites like Groupon have been controversial in medical and dental circles because of ethical concerns around fee-splitting between the company and dentist. Also, if you jump from dentist to dentist based on who’s offering a Groupon to new patients, you won’t get the same continuity and level of care you’d get from a dentist who knows you and your teeth. Plus, there’s the concern that a bargain-basement provider might be cutting corners. “You don’t want to be looking for bargains on parachutes,” Osherow says. “I wouldn’t be looking for one in orthodontics, either.”



Could Your Toothpaste Give You Cancer?

Over the years, certain chemicals believed to be harmless have been found to wreak havoc on our health (think: asbestos, nicotine, lead, and, more recently, bisphenol-A). Today, there’s a new public enemy in town: a common ingredient in household items like toothpaste called triclosan. It’s a common antimicrobial agent, and is also found in soaps, hand sanitizers, dishwashing detergents, and shampoos.

One triclosan-containing toothpaste, Colgate Total, has come under fire especially. According to Bloomberg News, a review of the research suggesting that triclosan was safe when Colgate earned FDA approval for the product in 1997 shows it may not be so harmless after all. (Colgate Total is the only triclosan-containing toothpaste available in the U.S.)

“Triclosan in toothpaste is especially concerning because of the direct route of exposure through your mouth,” says Laura Geer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health in Brooklyn.

Triclosan and triclocarban, a similar compound, are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic certain hormones and impact your health. The specific effects are still to be determined, but previous research suggests it may disrupt your thyroid function. Animal studies suggest it may also be linked to cancer-cell growth and affect fetal development. It may also enhance testosterone action, which could impact your fertility.

Recently, research presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society even found that among 181 pregnant women, triclosan was found in all of their urine samples and in about half of umbilical cord blood samples. This means these chemicals transfer to a developing fetus.

The good news: Although these ingredients are used in more than 2,000 every day products, it’s possible to rid your home of the ingredient. “We don’t want to start a mass hysteria, but it seems that the risks outweigh any of the benefits,” Geer says. According to the FDA, antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan don’t provide any benefit over washing with regular soap and water. “The simplest way to reduce your exposure is to avoid purchasing any products that are specifically labeled ‘antibacterial’ or ‘antimicrobial,’” Geer says. “If you see that used as marketing on a product, there’s a very good chance triclosan or triclocarban is the active ingredient.”



Scientists reveal perfect tooth brushing technique and it turns out you’ve been doing it wrong

Scientists have published a study on the perfect way to clean your teeth – and it turns out most people have been doing it wrong.

Researchers have said a dizzying array of conflicting advice on tooth brushing has led to confusion about the best way to stay clean and fresh.

A new study found five different methods of tooth brushing in dental textbooks, toothpaste instructions and research papers.

And there simple conclusion is forget little circular motions or moving along the gum-line, the best method is a simple back and forth scrub.

Aubrey Sheilam, professor of dental public health at University College, London has distilled the advice into some simple tips.

He said that a horizontal brushing motion, with the toothbrush held like a pencil at a 45 degree angle, is the best way to get to dental plaque.

Couple brushhing their teeth
He added: “In this study we found an unacceptably inconsistent array of advice from different sources.

 “Dental associations need to be consistent about what method to recommend, based on how effective the method is.

“Most worryingly, the methods recommended by dental associations are not the same as the best ones mentioned in dental textbooks.

“There is no evidence to suggest that complicated techniques are any better than a simple gentle scrub.”

He also stated that brushing after eating sweets or sugary drinks to prevent tooth decay has little effect because it takes bacteria from food about two minutes to start producing acid, the acid will have already damaged the enamel.

Dentist Dr John Wainwright, who carried out the study, said: “For something most people do twice a day, you would expect dentists to send a clearer, more unified message to their patients on how to brush their teeth.”
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Best Way to Brush Your Teeth? Experts Disagree

When it comes to the best way to brush your teeth, experts do not agree.

British researchers surveyed 15 dental association guidelines in the United States, Britain, Japan and seven other countries; searched the dental literature for studies; recorded information by toothbrush manufacturers; and read 10 dental textbooks searching for advice on how, how long and how often to brush.

The review, published in the August issue of the British Dental Journal, found no randomized trials of brushing technique and very little agreement on how to go about cleaning teeth. Some sources, like the American Dental Association, recommended the Bass technique — holding the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum and making very short back-and-forth movements.

Others preferred the Fones technique, which requires large, sweeping circles over the teeth with the toothbrush at right angles to the tooth surface.

At least three other variations were suggested by other sources. Some said to brush for two minutes, some for two to three, and others for at least three minutes. Some experts said twice a day; others said three times at least.

“Despite all the techniques described by experts, there’s no evidence to suggest that any of them is more effective than a simple scrub,” said the lead author, John Wainwright, a dentist in Doncaster, England. “Expert opinion is worth something, but it’s low on the hierarchy of evidence.”



The Doctors: The truth about dental health

Red wine may reduce the growth of bacteria that can lead to gum disease, one new study suggests. And then there’s the recent health craze with oil pulling — an ancient folk remedy that involves swishing oil around your mouth for up to 20 minutes to supposedly help whiten teeth and prevent cavities, along with other health benefits. But the science is limited on both, and neither can substitute for good, old-fashioned brushing twice and flossing once every day. Good oral health may also contribute to overall health: Some studies suggest a link between gum disease and diabetes, heart disease, even Alzheimer’s. More tried-and-true ways to improve dental health:

Use fluoride toothpaste.

Not only for you, but kids too, updated recommendations from the American Dental Association (ADA) say. Fluoride is a mineral that can help strengthen tooth enamel and repair early decay. Parents should use a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste — the size of a grain of rice — to brush baby’s teeth twice a day as soon as they appear. For children ages 3 to 6, increase that to pea-size.

Limit sugary foods and drinks.

That’s because when the bacteria in your mouth comes into contact with sugar, it produces acids that attack enamel, and can eventually lead to cavities and tooth sensitivity.

Don’t wait for pain.

Regular checkups can help spot troubles early on and prevent problems. Almost 25% of U.S. adults have untreated cavities, which can lead to severe pain, infections, even tooth loss. See a dentist once or twice a year; babies should get their first exam no later than their first birthday, the ADA suggests.



Dental health for your furry friend

August is pet dental month and Dr Mark Carter, veterinarian and owner of the Dubbo Veterinary Hospital, is reinforcing the importance of pet dental health.

He said pet dental care is just as important as human care and can have the same effects.

“Dental disease in pets is important, it’s important because it can cause pain, and it can also have detrimental effects on the kidney, liver and heart,” Dr Carter said.

Pets also develop dental disease the same way humans do, Dr Carter said.

“Plaque builds up and turns into tartar, which causes pain, erosion of the tooth and eventually tooth loss,” he said.

He also added the lips can sometimes hide the diseased tooth making it difficult to identify.

Dr Carter also squashed a widely believed myth.

“People mistake bad breath in part as normal, this is incorrect,” he said.

Bad breath in pets can be a warning sign and once a diseased tooth is discovered intervention from a veterinary surgeon is required.

But Dr Carter said there is no need for alarm and preventatives to tooth disease are available.

“For those owners that are concerned, you can train animals to have their teeth cleaned, but there are also special kibbles, chews and treats that can clean teeth,” he said.

“Those who wish to have their pet’s teeth checked during August, pet dental month, Dubbo Veterinary Hospital is offering a free grading assessment of pets teeth and a 10 per cent discount off dental procedures.”