BABY BOOMERS ARE KEEPING MORE NATURAL TEETH YET INCREASING RISK OF ROOT DECAY
The baby boom generation, one of the largest age cohorts in our society, is now starting to enter the senior age group. We now have resources available to help people live longer, healthier and more active lives, and those medical advancements extend to dental care. But you have to take advantage of those advancements in health care by actively working at maintaining your health, including choosing a more nutritious diet, exercising, avoiding internal and external exposure to carcinogens, and having annual medical and dental exams. That necessitates a continued regimen of brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly to continue to keep those teeth anchored firmly in your mouth.
Baby boomers are keeping more of their natural teeth than in past generations, but that means that our teeth are subjected to bacteria and plaque for a longer time. If you are over the age of 50, that puts you at greater risk for root decay. It has been indicated that there is a relationship between tooth and root decay and serious medical conditions: heart disease; stroke; diabetes; pneumonia; and other health problems associated with aging. The bottom line – if you want to sustain a healthy body well into your senior years, you need to maintain healthy mouth conditions.
WHAT CAUSES ROOT DECAY?
While you still have natural teeth, they are continuously at risk for developing cavities and tooth decay. Causes of root decay includes difficulty cleaning the root areas, a lack of adequate saliva flow, a diet high in sugar, or a combination of these factors. As the population moves from middle age to seniors, all those years of normal wear and tear from chewing food and recurrent brushing may cause the soft tissues of the gums to begin to recede from teeth. As a result, not only is more tooth surface is exposed for plaque attack, but now tooth roots become subject to exposure to plaque. Although a tooth’s surface is covered with a hard substance called enamel, the roots of your teeth are sheathed in a much softer material called cementum, which anchors the tooth to the jawbone. Once the gum has receded, it is therefore easier for plaque to quickly invade the root area, and decay of the tooth root can result. In addition, the cementum is yellow in color, and that can affect the appearance of your smile.
In addition to receding gums, root decay can also be a consequence of decay around the edges of fillings. As we age, fillings may also weaken and fracture, which provides wonderful hiding places for bacteria to lurk and eventually cause decay. One of the conditions associated with aging is a reduction in the size and sensitivity of the nerves in tour teeth, so the pain of cavities or tooth root decay may not be felt until the tooth is already beyond repair. At that point, the tooth may need to be pulled. Root decay is also hard to detect as you become older – it’s crafty at painlessly hiding out along the gum line or in-between teeth where it can’t be easily visible without an x-ray. Signs to look for which are typical symptoms of root decay are discoloration of the tooth or “notches” along the gum line.
HOW IS ROOT DECAY TREATED?
Treating root decay is challenging. A cavity on the tooth’s root is more likely than a tooth cavity to significantly affect the pulp portion of the tooth, so it’s extremely important to treat the first signs of root decay before it can cause further degradation to the tooth structure. In the past, dentists treated root decay with fillings the same as they would a cavity, but that approach yielded much higher failure rates because filling material is designed to adhere to the harder surface of the tooth, not the tooth’s porous roots. The outcome was usually a shorter life span for the repair. However, the dental industry has been discovering new ways to treat root decay using less invasive procedures to treat early indications of root decay.
The least invasive is a series of professional fluoride treatments conducted in our office, supplemented by a fluoride regimen at home. As part of your ongoing preventative dental care we may prescribe a pharmaceutical grade toothpaste, a mouth rinse or fit you for fluoride trays. When severe damage has occurred or in circumstances where it is difficult to reach decay between teeth, a dental crown may be recommended. Contrary to popular belief, the crown process is really not any more uncomfortable than a filling (although that probably is of little reassurance to patients who dread fillings). When the decay has progressed beyond the point of being able to save any portion of the tooth and root system, tooth extraction may be the only option to prevent further deterioration of the gum and bone. Remedial repair to replace the removed tooth may warrant a dental bridge or dental implants. If root decay has advanced to the pulp area, a root canal is usually in order.
PREVENTATIVE ORAL CARE FOR BOOMERS
Root decay can be prevented, even if your gums have begun to recede, with a few simple measures.
• Limit sugar intake as sugar provides nutrition for the plaque-causing bacteria.
• Drink lots of water or chew sugarless gum to keep dry mouth at bay – saliva washes away food debris and neutralizes acid which contribute to root decay.
• Schedule regular visits with Alabama Family Dentistry to check for signs of receding gums and root decay. Preventive measures which are steps above a regular dental cleaning may entail ultrasonic dental cleaning which removes dental tartar from under the gum line.
• In severe cases of receding gums, a gum graft may be required to restore gums to a natural state to reduce exposure to bacteria.
• Maintain a consistent soft bristle brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing regime at home
Baby boomers – you aren’t getting older – just wiser. And now you have learned enough about root decay to take preventative care seriously, and be able to seek dental treatment at one of the four Alabama Family Dentistry offices serving patients living in Birmingham, Gardendale, Warrior, Sumiton, and surrounding communities, as soon as the first symptoms of gum recession appear. With diligent oral health care, you can stay partners with your natural teeth well into your golden years!