Posts for: January, 2019
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.
Often as children grow older, their participation in sports or similar activities increases. While generally encouraged, this greater activity does increase injury risk, especially to the mouth.
In fact, the late childhood to early adulthood demographic is the most prone portion of the population to incur dental injuries. To complicate matters, their dental development is often incomplete, posing a number of treatment obstacles for an injured tooth.
For example, the primary means for preserving an injured adult tooth is a root canal treatment: damaged or diseased tissue within the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, is removed and the empty chamber and root canals filled and sealed to prevent infection. But while a fully matured tooth can function without the nerves and blood vessels of the pulp, a developing tooth needs these tissues for continued tooth formation. Otherwise, tooth development can stall and cause problems later on.
The most common solution for younger teeth is to remove any damaged tooth structure without disturbing the pulp if at all possible followed by a filling. That’s contingent, though, on whether we find the pulp unexposed or undamaged—if it is, we’ll try to remove only damaged or diseased pulp tissue and leave as much healthy tissue intact as possible. To aid with healing and tissue re-growth, we may also place medicinal stimulators between the pulp and the filling.
Jaw development may also pose a challenge if the injured tooth is too far gone and must be removed. Our best choice is to replace it with a dental implant; but if we install the implant while the jaw is still growing, it may eventually appear out of place with the rest of the teeth. It’s best to postpone an implant until full jaw maturity in early adulthood.
In the meantime we could provide a temporary solution like a removable partial denture or a modified bonded bridge that won’t permanently alter nearby teeth. These methods can adequately restore the function and appearance of missing teeth until the jaw is mature enough for an implant.
While injuries with young permanent teeth do pose extra challenges, we have effective ways to address them. With the right approach, the outcome can be just as successful as with a mature tooth.
If you would like more information on dental care in the formative years, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”