When Mary bit down on her breakfast creation of an egg muffin with crisp bacon, she suddenly felt her partial denture shift in her mouth and a sharp pain in one of her teeth. “I knew it was just a matter of time before the tooth broke,” she thought. Mary informed her husband that one of the few remaining upper teeth that held in her upper plate had cracked. Unbeknownst to him, Mary had been enduring pain in that tooth for several months. Mary along with others who grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression, tolerated many problems, including dental-related problems.
Mary’s husband made a dental appointment that same day so his wife could have her tooth and denture problem resolved.
Mary looked in the mirror as she prepared to leave for the appointment and felt hypocritical as she reflected on many things she had spent time and money on in her life that offered temporary or unnoticeable results. I only have one set of teeth though. Her many trips to the hair stylist, the years of purchasing expensive make up, money spent on one diet program after another, her membership to the gym, her designer clothes — all designed to improve her physical appearance and health. She had not maintained a balance with her dental health,
Mary had gained valuable insight about her long overdue need for dental care. She may have been in her 70s, but she valued keeping her teeth. Her dental health had suffered, and her ability to eat without discomfort was now a primary focus and would remain so the rest of her life.
“I lost so many teeth and wear this old ill-fitting upper plate because I have forsaken my teeth and dental health all my life and always waited until problems escalated to a dental emergency,” she told her husband. “You would think at my age, I’d be smart enough to have figured this out long ago.”
Her dental visit was surprisingly pleasant and peaceful for her. Mary had determined even before walking in my office that she was committed to her oral health and wished to restore her mouth to a healthy condition and be able to chew comfortably. Mary was diagnosed with several areas of gum disease, root decay, tooth decay around old fillings, broken teeth and a very poor fitting denture. Gum disease in the elderly is common because of decreased immune system response, limited dexterity for brushing and flossing and infrequent visits to the dentist. Root decay is one of the most debilitating dental problems faced by the elderly simply because naturally occurring gum recession in later years exposes the roots of teeth to bacteria and can cause terrible tooth decay. Mary’s tooth broke off at the gum line and required extraction because her denture fit so poorly it generated heavy uneven stresses on her teeth when she ate.
Mary’s focus on dental care did not end with herself. Her husband had neglected his dental care just like Mary, but worse. As a heart patient who uses oxygen and has a long list of medications, his need for proper oral health was obvious even to his wife. He agreed to a dental exam, which revealed very debilitated dental health.
Geriatric patients need to value their dental health and realize infection spreads from teeth and gums into the body, sending bacteria through the heart and other organs. The level of an infection in the mouth is often considerably worse than an infected cut on your arm that would require immediate medical attention. We tolerate infection in both our teeth and gums quite well. Out of sight and out of mind leads to neglected dental problems. “Our Little Dental Secret” is that we can have missing or broken teeth, gum disease, abscessed teeth that typically don’t hurt, poor function, and ill-fitting dentures (often not worn any more) all hidden behind the curtain of our lips, and no one knows. The problems only escalate and become worse over time and more expensive to treat. The best time for dental care and a good examination is today. Don’t put off your dental care because it will only be worse tomorrow.
Dr. Scott Harden is a dentist at Fountain View Family Dentistry and has served the Towne Lake area for more than 21 years. He is a Dental Advisor for two nationally renowned dental research companies. You can reach him at (770) 926-0000 or visit FountainViewSmiles.com.O