Something on Basic Dental Care for Senior Citizens

head-teethAs we get older, dental care becomes more and more valuable to your overall health. Many senior citizens experience dental problems, but it’s good to know that these problems can be reduced and improved by a few simple techniques. Basically, changes take place in your mouth as you age — gums soften and the muscles in your mouth become weak. Saliva production is reduced as is the ability to chew your food.

Tooth decay may increase when we age – one of the results of reduced saliva in the mouth. It’s more difficult to use fillings to restore teeth because the decay often occurs near the gum line. Teeth often become brittle with aging because the pulp of the tooth becomes smaller, resulting in less fluid to the teeth. Teeth become brittle and can be easily chipped.

Periodontal disease often happens during the aging process. This causes swollen gums that bleed even when brushing your teeth. Loss of teeth can occur when food is trapped between the teeth and gums in tiny pockets. If you suspect periodontal disease, you should seek treatment immediately to avoid tooth loss.

You can improve your dental hygiene by practicing a few basic techniques, including:

  • Brushing and flossing – It’s best to use a medium soft brush and paste. If you can’t appropriately grip a toothbrush because of arthritis or other joint problems, you can purchase a rubber strap that helps you secure a better grip. Be sure to brush your teeth, tongue and gums thoroughly after every meal. Flossing every day gets rid of debris that toothbrushes can’t reach and is essential to good dental hygiene.
  •  Rinse – As the flow of saliva is reduced, it’s more likely that food particles will damage your teeth and gums. Rinsing gets rid of the particles. Since some mouth washes are irritating to the gums, dilute it if necessary.
  • Gauze wipes – If it’s difficult for you to brush or rinse, try wiping your teeth with gauze – this will help remove some of the debris found around the teeth and gums.
  • Electric tooth brushes and irrigators – Electric tooth brushes are a boon to senior citizens. They’re easier to handle and very effective in cleaning teeth. Irrigators remove debris from teeth that toothbrushes miss, but can damage gums if it pushes food particles into gum pockets.
  • Glycerine – A flavored lubricant that can stop irritation of the gums. It can also help stimulate saliva production.

A solid plan for better oral dental hygiene can reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease. If you have dentures, talk with your dentist about the difference in promoting good oral hygiene. Dentures are like your real teeth in that they can cause problems with gums if they aren’t properly taken care of.

Please, do your research on good dental hygiene and develop daily techniques that will ensure your dental health as you age. Your dentist can also help you develop a plan.

A Little About Depression and Aging

 

Did you know the longer we live, the more likely we are to suffer life-changing situations and grief in our lives that might bring on bouts of depression? We’re more vulnerable to changes and sometimes don’t have the energy or the money or any other means to change situations that happen to upend our lives.

Most elderly depression occurs when there is separation or loss. There’s a feeling of helplessness, especially if aging leads to poverty and isolation. Even a bout of bad weather may cause depression if an elderly person feels “stuck.” The elderly are certainly more vulnerable than the rest of the population and as physical and environmental changes lead to isolation, depression may occur.

Senior DepressionThere are a couple types of depression that you should be aware of. Short-term depression occurs in most all of us at some time or other in our lives, but severe depression is more serious and may require some type of medical care or intervention. Severe depression is when the feelings become so agonizing that it extends to every area of life, and the person suffering may think that there’s no solution. Continue reading “A Little About Depression and Aging” »

Have you heard that high-fat dairy foods are healthier than low-fat?

“The case against low-fat milk is stronger than ever,” announced Time magazine this spring.

“Some research suggests people who consume full-fat dairy weigh less and are less likely to develop diabetes, too,” the magazine-website declared.

Really? Based on what?

Time’s evidence: a new study reported that people who had higher blood levels of fats found in dairy foods had a lower risk of diabetes.

But the question Time didn’t ask:Whole Milk

Did these people get their higher levels from eating full-fat dairy products? Is that what they were eating?

Guess what?  The researchers couldn’t tell because they didn’t ask.  For all they knew, the study participants could have been eating low-fat, not high-fat, dairy.

After all, “a large amount of dairy fat comes from lower-fat dairy products like 1 or 2 percent-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese,” says Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Whoops.

So maybe the study actually suggested the benefits, not the harm, of lower-fat dairy.

“You can’t simply generalize the results on the blood levels of those fats to the benefits of eating full-fat dairy,” Hu explains. You need to look at what people eat—not what’s in their blood—and when you do that you get a much different story than the one Time spread. Continue reading “Have you heard that high-fat dairy foods are healthier than low-fat?” »

When Can You Stop Getting A Colonoscopy?

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Date: July 26, 2016         
Unlike some unnecessary medical screenings, colonoscopies and other tests for colon and rectal cancer are highly effective. They really do save lives. Everyone should get screened by age 50—sooner if you have a genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer or a condition such as inflammatory bowel disease.
But there’s been controversy over how long screenings continue to make sense as you get older. After all, colon and rectal cancers are slow-growing, so at a certain age, you’re much more likely to die from something else, such as heart disease, than from colon cancer. Eventually the risks of colonoscopy, albeit small—such as complications of anesthesia—might outweigh the benefits. Is that age 70? 75? 85? 100?

To find out, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which sets guidelines for American medicine, did a thorough review of the medical literature on the topic.

Bottom line: Keep doing your preps, folks. The findings…

  • There is a “high certainty” that colorectal screening up to and including age 75 providessubstantial net benefit. Advice: Get it done.
  • Even after age 75, up to age 85, there is still a moderate benefit. Advice: Make your own decision, with your doctor, based on your overall health and previous screening history.
  • After age 85, any benefit of screening is, at most, very small, and outweighed by the risks.Advice: No screening in almost all cases.
  • Exception: If you’ve never been screened, get screened—whatever your age.

GETTING SCREENED THE RIGHT WAY

Colonoscopy is the only screening method that can actually remove growths—polyps—and get them tested to see if they are precancerous. It actually gets rid of the cancer threat. If all is clear, it’s repeated every 10 years. If a precancerous polyp was removed, it’s repeated more frequently.

But it’s not the only approved method…

  • Stool-based tests, which don’t require bowel cleansing (prep) or sedation, include a fecal occult blood test, as well as the more advanced stool DNA tests, which look not only for blood but for altered DNA biomarkers.
  • Computed tomography (CT) or “virtual” colonoscopy provides an image of the colon using radiation but no sedation. It’s repeated every five years.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which shows growths in about one-third of the colon. It’s also repeated every five years.

If you have a stool test, a CT scan or a sigmoidoscopy and it finds a potentially precancerous polyp, you’ll still need a colonoscopy to remove it. While the USPSTF didn’t take a stand on which screening method is best, every health expert in the field agrees—any screening is better than noscreening. If you choose a colonoscopy, make sure you get it done right…

  • Have your colonoscopy done by a trained gastroenterologist rather than, say, your primary care doctor.
  • Prep smart. How well you prepare your bowel before the colonoscopy can make the difference in how effective it is in picking up—and removing—cancer threats.
  • Even though screening makes sense well into older ages, nearly one-quarter (23%) of colonoscopies may still be unnecessary—ordered too frequently, for example.
  • Even if you’ve had a precancerous polyp removed, you may not need to repeat a colonoscopy as often as you thought.

Colon cancer screenings aren’t exactly a fun topic. But it’s a tragedy that colon cancer still kills nearly 50,000 Americans a year. After all, if every person got a colonoscopy by age 50, about two-thirds of the cases of colon cancer would never have developed.

Here’s a way to tell what that leg pain really means…

If you’ve ever been stopped cold by a charley horse, you know just how excruciating these muscle spasms can be. But are you sure it’s just a muscle spasm? Or is that leg pain due to something far more serious?

What can cause leg pain…Running physical injury, leg calf pain. Runner sore body after exercising, red background

PERIPHERAL ARTERIAL DISEASE (PAD)

This is one to worry about. Even though the pain usually isn’t intense, it can triple your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

What it feels like: About 10% of people with PAD suffer leg cramps, leg aching and leg fatigue that occur only during physical activity involving the legs (any type of activity can trigger it—even just walking). When you rest your legs, the discomfort goes away, usually in 10 minutes or less. As PAD becomes more severe and blood circulation worsens, pain can occur during rest and result in leg ulcers and even gangrene.

What to do: See a doctor. PAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the same condition that leads to most heart attacks. Your doctor will compare the blood pressure in your arms to the pressure at your ankles. If there’s a significant difference, that could mean that you have PAD and you’ll need an ultrasound of the legs to determine the extent and location of arterial obstructions. Continue reading “Here’s a way to tell what that leg pain really means…” »

How A Toothache Can Turn Deadly

A Toothache Can Turn Deadly

EVEN MILD PAIN SHOULD NEVER BE IGNORED

It’s hard to imagine how a toothache could turn deadly—but it can. Even mild or moderate discomfort (for example, pain while chewing…sensitivity to hot and cold…and/or redness and swelling of the gums) can quickly turn into a potentially serious condition, known as an abscess, a pus-filled infection inside the tooth or between a tooth and the gum. Though the pain may be merely annoying in the beginning, within a day or so, it can turn into the intense, throbbing pain or sharp, shooting pain that is the telltale sign of an abscess.

Dangerous trend: The number of Americans hospitalized for dental abscesses is on the rise. Over a recent eight-year period, hospitalizations for periapical abscesses (infections at the tip of the tooth root) increased by more than 40%.

No one has a precise explanation for the trend, but some experts speculate that the high cost of dental insurance is preventing many people from seeking routine dental care and perhaps delaying treatment when a problem occurs. Medicare does not cover routine dental care, and many private health insurance plans offer very limited coverage.

WHAT GOES WRONG

If there’s a breach in a tooth’s protective enamel—from tooth decay, a chip or even gum disease, for example—you’re at risk for an abscess. Some cracks can be taken care of with bonding or a crown (see below). Some don’t need treatment at all because they don’t go through to the tooth pulp (the soft tissue inside the tooth). But if bacteria get inside the tooth, an abscess can form.

Other signs to watch for: In addition to the symptoms described earlier, other red flags of a dental abscess may include persistent foul breath, a swollen face, jaw and/or neck glands and a fever.

Once the pain kicks in, people who have dental abscesses will often describe it as the worst they’ve ever experienced. If you’ve ever had a root canal (see below), you might have had an abscess.

• Get help immediately. An abscess will not go away on its own. Worse, the infection can spread as quickly as overnight (in some cases, however, it can take years to spread). An abscess can cause death when the infection spreads to the brain or heart or when swelling cuts off the airway.

When to be especially suspicious: If you have pain in one of your back teeth. They’re the ones that do most of the chewing, and they’re also the ones that are harder to reach with dental floss and a toothbrush. If you crunch something hard, such as a popcorn kernel, piece of ice or even an almond, a back tooth is the one most likely to be cracked.

GETTING PROMPT TREATMENT

Your dentist can diagnose an abscess in just a few minutes. All he/she has to do is gently tap on the suspected tooth with a small metal device and see if you wince. A tooth abscess will be very sensitive to pressure. An X-ray will confirm if there’s a pus-filled pocket near the tooth root.

You might be given penicillin or another antibiotic if the infection has spread beyond the tooth. In addition, your dentist will treat the abscess in one of three ways…

• Incision and draining. If the abscess is between the tooth and the gum, your dentist will make a small incision, drain out the pus and clean the area with saline. The pain will start to diminish almost immediately. Your dentist also can drain an abscess that occurs inside a tooth, but this won’t cure it—the infection will probably come back.

• Root canal. This is the most widely used treatment for an abscess near the tooth root. Your dentist will drill into the infected area, scrape away damaged tissue and drain the pus. After that, the canal will be filled with sealant, and the tooth will be crowned (a porcelain or metal cap is put over the tooth). If you get a root canal, there’s a good chance that the tooth will survive. The drawback is cost. Root canals usually are done by an endodontist (a dentist with advanced training). Expect to pay from $300 (for a front tooth) to $2,000 for a molar. The crown is an additional $500 to $3,000 (prices depend on where you live and whether you go to a specialist or your regular dentist).

• Extraction. This is the most permanent treatment for a deep abscess. It costs about $75 to $300 to remove a tooth—and once the tooth is gone, the abscess goes away with it.

Some patients save money by choosing not to replace an extracted tooth. But there are health risks associated with not replacing a tooth, such as increased chance of additional decay and infection, bone loss, poor chewing function and speech disturbances.

Better: Replace the tooth with an implant (at least $2,400) or a bridge (at least $1,100).

If you can’t see a dentist immediately: Consider going to an ER if you have severe pain and/or swelling. If you are having trouble breathing, go to an ER right away.

PREVENTING AN ABSCESS

If you take care of your teeth, there’s a good chance that you’ll never have an abscess.

In addition to regular brushing and flossing and avoiding a lot of sugar-filled foods and drinks…

• Use fluoride toothpaste. It remineralizes tooth enamel and makes it stronger. This is particularly important for older adults, whose receding gums can expose parts of the tooth and leave it vulnerable to decay.

Also helpful: A fluoride mouth rinse. There are many brands in drugstores. They strengthen the enamel and reduce tooth decay.

• Don’t slack off on dental visits. Most people should have dental checkups and cleanings every six months. If you smoke or have gum disease, diabetes or any other condition that increases your risk for dental problems, it’s usually a good idea to schedule even more frequent dental visits.

Source: Samuel O. Dorn, DDS, chair of the department of endodontics and program director at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where he holds the Frank B. Trice, DDS, Professorship in Endodontics. He is the president-elect of the International Federation of Endodontic Associations and the 2013 recipient of the Coolidge Award given by the American Association of Endodontists for lifetime achievement.