Think you’re too old to have your teeth straightened? In reality, healthy teeth can be moved at any age to better positions. For the many adults who have some form of malocclusion (bad bite), orthodontics is still a viable option even in later years.
As important as it is to self-image and confidence, treating misaligned teeth can benefit you more than just improving your smile. Misaligned teeth may be harder to keep clean, setting up a mouth environment advantageous to the development of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the risks of both rising with age. And normally aligned teeth are easier to chew with than those misaligned.
Age isn’t the determining factor for whether you’re a good candidate for orthodontics — but your dental health is. Gum disease in particular can cause supporting bone loss, which can complicate orthodontic treatment. It’s important then that we first perform a complete oral examination and attempt to treat problems such as decay or gum disease first before attempting tooth movement.
What type of orthodontic treatment you’ll need will depend on the type of malocclusion you have and its relationship to the way your jaws fit together. Because your adult jaws have fully developed you may need orthognathic (“jaw straightening”) surgery to address certain advanced forms of malocclusion. If your bite problems aren’t that severe (the majority of situations) they can be treated with braces or, an increasingly popular alternative, clear aligners. These customized clear plastic trays are nearly invisible compared to metal braces and are effective for most patients.
Following the completion of tooth movement and other bite procedures, you will most likely need to wear a retainer to help prevent the teeth from reverting to their older positions. You may need to wear the retainer for a longer period than a younger patient, or perhaps indefinitely. Even with this mild inconvenience, though, you’ll still experience the positive effects of healthier and better functioning teeth and a great new smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
Although periodontal (gum) disease is the most common cause of bone loss in the mouth, women at or past menopause face another condition that could cause complications with their oral bone health — osteoporosis.
While normal bone goes through a balanced cycle of resorption (the dissolving of bone tissue) and re-growth, osteoporosis, a hormone-induced disease, tips the scale toward resorption. This reduces bone density, which weakens the bone and makes them more susceptible to fracture.
Some studies have shown a link between osteoporosis and existing gum disease; however, the greater concern at present from an oral health standpoint regards the side effects of a certain class of drugs called bisphosphonates used in the treatment of osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates slow excessive bone resorption, which helps restore normal balance to the bone growth cycle.
Some long-term users of bisphosphonates, however, may develop a complication in their jaw bone known as osteonecrosis in which isolated areas of the bone lose vitality and die. This can complicate certain types of oral surgery, particularly to install dental implants (which rely on stable bone for a successful outcome). While research is still ongoing, it does appear individuals at the highest risk of osteonecrosis are those with underlying cancers who receive high-dose intravenous bisphosphonate treatment every month for an extended period of time.
It’s important then that you let us know before any dental procedure if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis and what treatment you’re receiving for it. If you’ve been taking a bisphosphonate for an extended period of time, we may recommend that you stop that treatment for three months (if possible) before undergoing oral surgery. While your risk of complications from osteonecrosis is relatively small, adding this extra precaution will further reduce that risk and help ensure a successful outcome for your scheduled dental procedure.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Osteoporosis & Dental Implants” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Philosopher Will Durant wrote, "…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." While that observation could aptly apply to a great deal of life, it's certainly true of dental health. Strong, healthy teeth and gums are largely the result of good oral habits started in early childhood.
Here are some important dental care habits you'll want to instill in your child, as well as yourself.
Practice and teach daily oral hygiene. Keeping your child's mouth clean helps prevent future dental disease. It should begin before teeth appear by wiping your baby's gums with a clean, wet cloth after every feeding to keep decay-causing bacteria from growing. Once teeth appear, switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste until age 2, when you can increase to a pea-sized amount. As your child matures, be sure to teach them to brush and floss for themselves, especially by modeling the behavior for them.
Begin dental visits early. Besides daily hygiene, regular professional dental care is one of the best habits for keeping healthy teeth and gums. Plan to begin your child's dental visits by age 1 when some of their teeth may have already come in. And by beginning early, it's more likely your child will view dental visits as a routine part of life, a habit they'll more likely continue into adulthood.
Keep your oral bacteria to yourself. Many strains of bacteria, especially harmful ones, don't occur spontaneously in a child's mouth. They come from the outside environment, most often from their parents or caregivers. To avoid transmitting disease-causing bacteria from you to your baby don't share eating utensils, don't lick a pacifier to clean it, and avoid kissing infants (whose immune systems are immature) on the mouth.
Encourage your teenager to avoid bad habits. Hopefully when your children reach adolescence, they've already developed good oral habits. But there are some bad habits you should also help your teen avoid. While piercings are a popular expression among this age group, teens should avoid tongue and lip bolts and other piercings that could damage teeth. A tobacco habit can also have negative consequences for dental health including increased decay or gum disease risk and cancer.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
There’s really no secret to keeping your child’s teeth healthy — good, daily hygiene habits, regular dental visits and early treatment for emerging problems. It’s a lot easier for those things to happen if your child feels comfortable with dental care and visiting the dentist. Sadly, that’s not always the case: many children develop an unhealthy fear of the dentist because the initial relationship may have been mishandled.
Here, then, are 3 tips that will help you foster a healthy relationship between your child and their dentist.
Visit the dentist before their first birthday. From a health standpoint, dental visits should begin soon after your child’s first teeth emerge (erupt) in the mouth. Visiting the dentist by their first birthday also improves the chances they’ll develop a sufficient level of comfort with the visits, more so than if you waited a year or two longer.
Choose your dentist with your child’s sense of security and comfort in mind. When you’re looking for a dentist to care for your child, think of it as looking for a “new member of the family.” It’s important to find an office environment that’s kid-friendly and staff members that work well with children. Some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry and many general dentists have additional training in working with children. The key is a dental team that has a good, trust-building rapport with children.
Set an example, both in the home and at the dentist. Children learn quite a bit watching what their caregivers say and how they react in potentially stressful situations. If dental care is important to you personally, it’s more likely to become important to your child. And when you visit the dentist with your child, be sure to project calm and a sense that it’s routine — if you display tenseness or nervousness your child may take that as a sign that visiting the dentist is something to fear.
You want your child to learn that the dentist is their friend who’s there to help them. That lesson should begin early with the right dental team — and by making dental care a priority in your own life.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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