By Susan Braden
Teeth whitening might not be a mere cosmetic procedure anymore. Health professionals may soon use it as a form of cheap dental treatment for the elderly and disabled. Oral hygiene is sometimes difficult for those with impaired physical movement or mental problems, but this might be a solution, reports dentists at the Medical College of Georgia and Western University of Health Sciences.
Inability to brush or floss properly, if at all, can lead to excess plaque and tartar buildup. If left untreated, as often is the case, these seemingly minor problems can result in loss of teeth from decay or severe, irreversible gum disease. Parents or caretakers can help with these simple routines, but even if this help is given regularly, it still might not be as effective or cheap as it should.
Medicine can also contribute to the problem. Certain medications or health problems can cause xerostomia, or dry mouth, which reduces the flow of saliva in the mouth. (Saliva is one of the mouth’s natural defenses against plaque buildup, because it continually washes the mouth and breaks down certain food particles caught in the teeth.) If an elderly person suffers from xerostomia, this excess plaque and tartar can lead to tooth and gum decay, but researchers believe that whitening treatments may help.
Besides restoring the teeth to a pearly shade of white, whitening agents can also be used as a cheap oral antiseptic. Carbamide peroxide, commonly used with custom-fit whitening trays, kills bacteria, eliminates plaque and balances the mouth’s pH level to a point where the enamel and dentin do not dissolve as easily. Tougher enamel leads to fewer cavities, since it will be less prone to rot. Dentists are finding that if a patient faces challenges in keeping his or her mouth clean, bleaching can supplement traditional hygiene methods. Dentists say that the tray is an important part of the process, as it is custom made to fit each person’s mouth. Because of the close fit, the carbamide peroxide gel stays secure against the patient’s gums and teeth throughout the night or for whatever period of time the patient wears it.
“All these benefits lead us to believe that tray bleaching can be a very effective supplemental method of oral hygiene for patients facing greater challenges keeping their mouths clean,” said the report’s co-author Dr. David Lazarchik, associate professor in the Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine.
Elderly patients, and/or patients with physical and mental disabilities, should still see a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, but sometimes people in these special situations require a bit more care than the average patient. According to the dentists involved in this report, the whitening technique could be the cheap answer people need.
Dentists say that the process has not been incorporated into common hygiene routines yet, but they hope further research will assist dentists in better deciding how to incorporate bleaching into their treatment plans to specifically improve oral health. This could lead to cheap dental treatment for the elderly and disabled while offering the benefit of whiter, healthier teeth.