Posts for category: Oral Health
“Cut down on sweets, especially between meals” is perhaps one of the least popular words of advice we dentists regularly give. We’re not trying to be killjoys, but the facts are undeniable: both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay. Our concern isn’t the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains or dairy products, but rather refined or “free” sugars added to foods to sweeten them.
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both advise consuming no more than 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of sugar a day. Unfortunately, our nation’s average per person is much higher: we annually consume around 140 pounds per capita of refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, more than three times the recommended amount. Soft drinks are the single largest source of these in our diets — Americans drink an average of 52 gallons every year.
The connection between sugar and tooth decay begins with bacteria that ferments sugar present in the mouth after eating. This creates high levels of acid, which causes the mineral content of tooth enamel to soften and erode (a process called demineralization) and makes the teeth more susceptible to decay. Saliva naturally neutralizes acid, but it takes about thirty minutes to bring the mouth’s pH to a normal level. Saliva can’t keep up if sugars are continually present from constant snacking or sipping on soft drinks for long periods.
You can reduce the sugar-decay connection with a few dietary changes: limit your intake of sugar-added foods and beverages to no more than recommended levels; consume sweets and soft drinks only at meal times; replace sugar-added foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that inhibit the fermentation process (like cheese or black and green teas); and consider using mint or chewing gum products sweetened with xylitol, a natural alcohol-based sugar that inhibits bacterial growth.
Last but not least, practice good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular office cleanings and checkups. These practices, along with limits on refined sugar in your diet, will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and cavity-free.
If you would like more information on the relationship of sugar and dental disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Dental implants are widely considered the most durable tooth replacement option, thanks in part to how they attach to the jaw. But durable doesn't mean indestructible — you must take care of them.
Implants have a unique relationship to the jawbone compared to other restorations. We imbed a slender titanium post into the bone as a substitute for a natural tooth root. Because bone has a special affinity with the metal, it grows to and adheres to the implant to create a secure anchor. This unique attachment gives implants quite an advantage over other restorations.
It isn't superior, however, to the natural attachment of real teeth, especially in one respect: it can't match a natural attachment's infection-fighting ability. A connective tissue attachment made up of collagen fibers are attached to the tooth root protecting the underlying bone. An elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament lies between the tooth root and the bone and attaches to both with tiny collagen fibers. These attachments create a network of blood vessels that supply nutrients and infection-fighting agents to the bone and surrounding gum tissue.
Implants don't have this connective tissue or ligament attachment or its benefits. Of course, the implants are made of inorganic material that can't be damaged by bacterial infection. However, the gums and bone that surround them are: and because these natural tissues don't have these same biologic barriers to infection and perhaps access to the same degree of antibodies as those around natural teeth, an infection known as peri-implantitis specific to implants can develop and progress.
It's therefore just as important for you to continue brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque that causes infection to protect the gums and bone around your implants. You should also keep up regular office cleanings and checkups. In fact, we take special care with implants when cleaning them by using instruments that won't scratch their highly polished surfaces. Such a scratch, even a microscopic one, could attract and harbor bacteria.
There's no doubt dental implants are an excellent long-term solution for restoring your smile and mouth function. You can help extend that longevity by caring for them just as if they're your natural teeth.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
More than 20 million people in the United States use electronic cigarettes or e-cigs as an alternative to tobacco smoking. While many users believe "vaping" is a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, recent research into the health effects of e-cigs could put a damper on that belief. There's particular concern among dentists that this popular habit could harm users' dental health.
E-cigs are made with a chamber that holds the liquid vaping solution and a heating mechanism to heat the liquid and vaporize it. Users inhale the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings, as they would a traditional cigarette.
The nicotine alone can be problematic for dental health as we'll see in a moment. But the vapor also contains aerosols that some research indicates could damage the inner skin linings of the mouth in a similar fashion to the smoke of traditional cigarettes. One study by researchers with the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada found evidence that e-cig vapor increased the death rate of mouth cells, and led to greater cell irregularities over time.
According to other studies, there's evidence that e-cig vapor may disrupt the balance of the oral microbiome, the communities of both beneficial and harmful bacteria that normally live in the mouth. The imbalance in favor of more harmful bacteria could increase the risk for dental disease, particularly periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, nicotine from e-cigs seemed to create similar conditions in the mouth as it does with tobacco. Nicotine in any form can constrict blood vessels and reduce the body's ability to fight infection and to heal. Research indicates both forms of nicotine increase the risk for dental disease and make treatment more difficult.
These findings only identify conditions created by e-cigs that could be problematic for future dental health. Although we don't fully understand the long-term health effects of this new habit, based on the evidence so far the mouth may not fare so well. It's looking like e-cigs may be no safer for your teeth and gums than the cigarettes they replace.
The mouth isn’t an island unto itself — problems there may be indicative of deeper physical or emotional issues. Â The condition of a family member’s teeth and gums, for example, could be signs of bulimia, an eating disorder.
Characterized by food binging and purging through self-induced vomiting, bulimia can also have a severe effect on the teeth. Regular inducement of vomiting introduces stomach acid into the mouth that can attack and soften the mineral content of tooth enamel. As a result, 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.
The erosion pattern often differs from that produced by other high acid causes like the over-consumption of sodas. Because the tongue instinctively covers the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, they’re often shielded from much of the acid wash. Bulimics are much more apt to exhibit heavier erosion on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Bulimia and similar disorders produce other signs as well, like soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that exhibit puffiness of the face. The roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may appear roughened from the use of fingers or objects to induce gagging.
Unlike sufferers of anorexia nervosa who tend to be negligent about their hygiene (which itself increases their risk of dental disease), bulimics have a heightened sensitivity to their appearance. This concern may prompt them to aggressively brush right after purging, which can cause more of the softened enamel to be removed.
Treating the dental consequences of bulimia requires a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we want to lessen the impact of stomach acid by discouraging the person from brushing immediately after purging — better to rinse with water and a little baking soda to buffer the acid and wait about an hour before brushing. We may also suggest a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen and re-mineralize the enamel.
In the long-term, though, the disorder itself must be addressed through professional help. One good source is the National Eating Disorders website (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Besides information, the association also provides a toll-free helpline for referrals to professionals.
As with any eating disorder, bulimia can be trying for patients and their families. Addressing the issue gently but forthrightly will begin their journey toward the renewal of health, including their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
One of the health issues pregnant women should be concerned about is a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease. But you don’t have to be pregnant to have an increased risk — you also may be more susceptible to dental disease if you’re taking certain birth control pills.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, food debris that builds up on tooth and gum surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. If left untreated gum disease can eventually lead to the breakdown of connective gum tissue and cause tooth loss.
Pregnant women are at greater risk because of an increased level of female hormones (estrogen) in their blood stream. This causes a change in the blood vessels that supply the gums, making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. A number of birth control options also increase estrogen levels, causing much of the same effect. To heighten the effect, you may also have a predisposition toward gum disease by your genetics or a high stress level.
There are some things you can do, however, to help lower your risk if you’re taking birth control medication. First and foremost, practice a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing. If you’re unsure if your technique is effective, we can provide guidance and training to make sure you’re performing these tasks properly. You should also visit us at least twice a year for office cleanings and checkups: no matter how effective you are with brushing and flossing, plaque can still accumulate in hard to reach places and form hardened deposits known as calculus.
You should also be on the lookout for signs of disease like gum redness, swelling or bleeding. If you see any of these signs, contact us as soon as possible for a thorough examination. As with many other issues involving health, the sooner we begin treatment for gum disease the better your chances of stopping it before it does too much harm.
If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy or birth control, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy & Birth Control.”