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Four Oral Health Issues Seniors Face

March 10th, 2021

Oral health is an important and often overlooked component of an older person’s general health and well-being. Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh and our team know that for many of our older patients, oral health can become an issue when arthritis or other neurological problems render them unable to brush or floss their teeth as effectively as they once did. Today, we thought we would discuss four common oral health issues our older patients face and how they can avoid them:

Cavities: It’s not just children who get tooth decay—oral decay is a common disease in people 65 and older. Ninety-two percent of seniors 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The risk for tooth decay increases because many older adults don’t go to the dentist as often as they used to, thus cavities go undetected and untreated for longer than they should. Keeping regular appointments with Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh is the key to getting cavities treated in a timely manner.

Difficulty eating: Oral health problems, whether from missing teeth, cavities, dentures that don’t fit, gum disease, or infection, can cause difficulty eating and can force people to adjust the quality, consistency, and balance of their diet.

Dry mouth: Also called xerostomia, dry mouth is a common issue for a lot of seniors. Our friends at the Oral Cancer Foundation estimate that 20 percent of elderly people suffer from dry mouth, which means the reduced flow of saliva (saliva plays a crucial role in preventing tooth decay). Many seniors are on multiple medications for a variety of chronic illnesses or conditions. Common medications taken that may cause dry mouth are decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, pain pills, incontinence medications, antidepressants, diuretics, muscle relaxers, and Parkinson’s disease medications. To help counter this, we suggest drinking lots of fluids and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol. We also encourage you to check with Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh during your next visit if you think your medications are causing your mouth to feel dry.

Gum Disease: Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. While gum disease affects people of all ages, it typically becomes worse as people age. In its early stages, gum disease is painless, and most people have no idea that they have it. In more advanced cases, however, gum disease can cause sore gums and pain when chewing.

Gum disease, which can range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease, is usually caused by poor brushing and flossing habits that allow dental plaque to build up on the teeth. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form tartar that brushing simply does not clean. Only a professional cleaning at our office can remove tartar. The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and can bleed easily; in periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces that become infected.

Proper brushing, flossing, and visiting our office regularly can prevent gum disease. Seniors with limited dexterity who have trouble gripping a toothbrush should ask Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh about modifying a handle for easier use or switching to a battery-powered toothbrush.

Does Your Child Need Endodontic Treatment?

March 3rd, 2021

Baby teeth come with a built-in expiration date. That charming first smile is meant to make way for a healthy, beautiful adult smile. Unfortunately, before they are ready to make way for permanent teeth, primary teeth can be affected by decay, trauma, or infection—problems which can lead to damage to the pulp within the tooth. If your dentist tells you that your child’s tooth needs specialized endodontic treatment, is treatment really that much better for your child than losing a baby tooth prematurely?

Quite often, the answer is yes!

Baby teeth do much more than serve as temporary stand-ins for adult teeth. They are essential for:

  • Biting and chewing—a full set of baby teeth helps your child develop proper chewing, which leads to healthy digestion. And chewing also helps build face and jaw muscles.
  • Speech development—primary teeth help guide speech production and pronunciation.
  • Spacing—a baby tooth serves as a place holder for the adult tooth waiting to arrive. If a primary tooth is lost too early, the remaining baby teeth may drift from their proper location. This, in turn, can cause overcrowding or misalignment of the permanent teeth when they do erupt.

Baby teeth, like adult teeth, contain living pulp tissue. The pulp chamber inside the crown (the visible part of the tooth) and the root canals (inside each root) hold nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. When the pulp is damaged by trauma or infected, a baby tooth can still be saved with endodontic treatment. Endodontic treatment in baby teeth can take two forms.

  • “Vital” pulp is pulp that can be saved. Vital pulp therapy uses procedures to deal with damaged pulp inside the crown, or visible part, of the tooth. Pulp therapy can be used on teeth when only the top of the pulp has been affected by decay, limited exposure, infection, or trauma, but the root pulp remains healthy. Specific treatment will depend on the nature of the pulp injury, and a crown will usually be placed over the tooth after treatment to protect it.
  • With non-vital pulp, your dentist will probably recommend a traditional root canal procedure. All of the pulp tissue will be removed from inside the crown and the roots, and the pulp chamber and root canals will then be cleaned, disinfected, shaped, and filled. Finally, because the treated tooth will be more fragile, a crown will be used to protect the tooth from further damage.

There can be good reasons for extracting a seriously damaged baby tooth, and there are situations where preserving the tooth is the best and healthiest option for your child. Discuss your options with Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh when you visit our Green Bay, WI office for the safest, most effective way to treat your child’s compromised tooth.

Troubles with Cementum? Prevent ‘Em!

February 24th, 2021

Our teeth are a lot more complicated than they look. Beneath that shiny white surface is an entire system of different cell tissues working together to keep each tooth vital and healthy.

  • Enamel, the protective exterior of the crown (the visible part of the tooth), is the strongest substance in the body and the first line of defense against damage to our teeth.
  • Dentin, the hard tissue under the enamel and cementum, has microscopic tubules that connect to the pulp.
  • Pulp, the tissue at the center of the tooth, contains the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue that keep the tooth alive.
  • Cementum, composed of connective tissue which forms the protective exterior of the root, also attaches to fibers in the periodontal ligaments which hold the teeth securely in the jaw.

Because cementum is below the gum line, it’s generally safe from the cavity-causing conditions that our enamel is exposed to every day. But there are still potential hazards that we should be aware of.

  • Cementum Erosion

With a name like “cementum,” it’s logical to assume that this is the hardest tissue in the body. Actually, however, that distinction goes to our enamel. And if even our enamel can be damaged by bacteria and plaque, cementum doesn’t stand a chance!

How does cementum come in contact with cavity-causing bacteria? Gums often recede as a natural part of the aging process, leaving part of the root exposed. Gum disease, failure to brush and floss regularly, and heavy-handed brushing can lead to early gum recession. The newly exposed cementum is now exposed to the same conditions, which cause cavities in our enamel. But a root cavity can be trickier to treat and, because the cementum is not as strong as enamel, can progress more quickly. And if a cavity reaches the pulp, a root canal could be necessary.

But the erosion of cementum doesn’t have to result in a cavity to cause discomfort. When cementum is removed, the dentin beneath is exposed. Dentin, you’ll recall, contains tiny tubes that connect to the pulp of the tooth. The result? Conditions such as heat, cold, even an intake of air can cause tooth sensitivity as they stimulate the nerves in the pulp. If your hot coffee or ice cream cone is suddenly causing you pain, let us know. There are treatments, which can reduce tooth sensitivity.

  • Gum Disease (Periodontitis)

In more severe cases of gum disease, the gums pull away from the teeth leaving pockets, which harbor plaque and bacteria. Left untreated, these pockets can become home to infections, which attack and destroy bone structure and connective tissue. Caught early, a treatment called tooth scaling and planing can help. In this type of deep cleaning, your dentist or endodontist will remove plaque and tartar and then smooth the root surface to make it harder for bacteria and plaque to stick. If the gums have receded too far, a gum graft might be necessary to protect the exposed roots.

  • Trauma

The same traumas that can damage teeth above the gum line can result in injuries below it. Chewing on hard objects (ice, hard candies, wooden pencils), bruxism (tooth grinding), and sports injuries or accidents can cause cracks in the cementum. If your root is split or fractured, it might be possible to save your tooth, but sometimes extraction is the best option.

So how do you protect your cementum, hidden as it is under your gum line? The same way you protect the more visible parts of your teeth!

  • Keep to a healthy daily routine of brushing and flossing. This will help prevent gum disease and keep gum recession at bay. Using a soft brush and brushing firmly but gently will remove plaque while protecting both enamel and cementum. If you notice tooth sensitivity, give us a call!
  • Come in to our Green Bay, WI office for regular dental exams. The best treatment for gum disease is prevention. When you come in for regular checkups, we are able to discover early signs of gum disease before it becomes a serious problem. If you are suffering from more advanced periodontitis, there are treatments available.
  • Safety first when it comes to your smile. If you chew on hard objects, talk to Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh about how to break the habit. If you grind your teeth, see us for solutions. If you play sports, let us know—often a mouthguard can help protect your teeth from injuries that could otherwise lead to more complex procedures or even tooth loss.

Maintaining your healthy dental habits is a lot like cementum—the foundation of a beautiful smile. Nothing complicated about that!

Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?

February 17th, 2021

Sometime around the late teens or early twenties, people’s wisdom teeth start to erupt. These are the third and final set of molars. When wisdom teeth come in properly — meaning they are correctly aligned — they offer more chewing power. Unfortunately, more often than not, wisdom teeth are misaligned, crowd other teeth, and need to be removed.

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

It is thought that we have wisdom teeth because — back in the day — we ate a diet that consisted of more rough foods, like roots, leaves, and meat, all of which required more heavy-duty chewing power.

Reasons Wisdom Teeth Need to be Removed

While there is no clear-cut rule that says every single person needs to have their wisdom teeth removed, there are certain situations where one or more wisdom teeth are causing a problem or have a strong likelihood that problems will eventually arise in the future that warrant their removal.

1. Fully Impacted Wisdom Teeth

When a wisdom tooth is “impacted”, it means that the tooth is covered by gum tissue, thereby preventing it from erupting through the gum. This often occurs when the mouth is too small to allow enough room for the tooth to emerge. Because bacteria, food, or other mouth substances can be lodged under the gum that covers the wisdom tooth, it can lead to an acute abscess, known as pericoronitis.

2. Partially Impacted Wisdom Teeth

When a wisdom tooth is partially impacted, meaning the tooth is partially emerged from the gums, it almost always is advised to be removed. Because of its location in the very back of the mouth, a partially erupted wisdom tooth is more susceptible to not only decay and cavities, but also gum disease.

3. Other Reasons to Have Wisdom Teeth Removed

If you experience any of the below dental issues or changes in your dental health, removal of your wisdom tooth (teeth) may be necessary:

  • Pain at or surrounding the wisdom tooth site, including the jaw or cheek area
  • Repetitive infections
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth decay (extensive)
  • Tumors
  • Cysts
  • Damage to surrounding teeth

It is important to know that the decision to have a wisdom tooth removed isn’t always cut and dry. It is essential to talk to Dr. Kirk Fishbaugh about the alignment of your wisdom teeth if they have already erupted, health of your wisdom teeth if impacted or partially impacted, and your overall dental health to determine what is best for your situation. Contact our Green Bay, WI office to schedule an appointment today!