My mom has had a huge surge in dental emergencies over the past year. We’ve had to go in nine times and, six of those times, we couldn’t save the tooth. She now needs dentures, but with her losing so many teeth, any set I get her is going to be obsolete within a month or two.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… she needs better care. She needs to see the dentist more often. She needs to get her dental work done.
This isn’t the problem. I know it sounds crazy and I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t living it, but she was on a regular six-month schedule prior to this and had NO issues at all.
She’s 74 and I help take care of her. Sure, she’s got some dexterity issues, but I help her brush her teeth and we even use floss picks. I even picked up some super strong mouth wash to kill any bacteria. She hates the stuff because it burns, but I don’t know what else to do. All these emergency dental appointments are hard on her, plus I’m the one paying for the treatments. And, as the teeth go bad, she’s in pain and struggles to eat. Her whole mood changes.
I did try to talk to the dental office about this, but they said she just needs better care and put it on me. I’m soooo frustrated. I’m not crazy. I know we’re being diligent. I just can’t figure out what to do and I’m not getting any help. Any ideas?
No, you’re not crazy, but you and your mom are clearly not getting the help you need. And, that means dental help, not mental. You’re actually spot-on.
Does your mom complain about having a dry mouth, cough a lot, have trouble talking, struggle with eating, or go for lozenges and drinks all day? These may be key indicators that she’s actually dealing with dry mouth, which professionals refer to as xerostomia. It impacts as much as 64% of the population, according to the ADA. It isn’t a normal side-effect of aging, but lots of conditions and medications contribute to it, so prevalence grows with age.
Xerostomia creates the perfect storm. When the mouth is dry, acidity tends to rise, teeth don’t get the mineral bath that replenishes their health, and inflammation occurs. Disease and cavities set in. A whole lot of people aren’t aware they have it or try to treat it on their own, but a lot of the things they do make it worse. For example, someone may reach for a mouthwash with a high alcohol content to kill bacteria, and the alcohol further dries tissues out. That might be part of what you guys have going on too. People will also go for juices and sugary things to try to get saliva flowing. That also increases cavity risk. Issues brought on by xerostomia can take root fast and explode quickly as well.
It’s unclear who told you it was a hygiene problem. A dentist or hygienist would have probably been more interested in the causes. The response makes more sense if coming from someone who doesn’t have much hands-on clinical experience because dental offices are usually really good about identifying these kinds of problems. Either way, your mom needs a full diagnosis and she’ll need more preventative care going forward, and for that reason, you should get something booked with a dentist you either have a good relationship with or can build one with—not someone you only see when there’s a problem. Chances are, this will take joint effort from your mom’s primary care physician and the family dentist to address the root issue; perhaps medications can be switched out or she has a condition that needs to be treated. The dentist can then give better instructions for home care that will help improve salivary flow and reduce decay risk, and will need to see her more often, so things can be caught early until this is brought in check.
This blog is sponsored by Dr. Steve Sirin, an Elgin emergency dentist.