Tooth decay doesn't appear out of nowhere. It begins with bacteria, which produce acid that softens and erodes tooth enamel. Without adequate enamel protection, cavities can develop.
So, one of our prevention goals is to decrease populations of disease-causing bacteria. One way is to deprive them of carbohydrates, a prime food source, most notably refined sugar. That's why for decades dentists have instructed patients to limit their intake of sugar, especially between meal snacks.
Ironically, we're now consuming more rather than less sugar from a generation ago. The higher consumption impacts more than dental health — it's believed to be a contributing factor in many health problems, especially in children. Thirty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a child in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes: today, there are over 50,000 documented juvenile cases.
Cutting back isn't easy. For one thing, we're hard-wired for sweet-tasting foods. Our ancestors trusted such foods when there was limited food safety knowledge. Most of us today still have our "sweet tooth."
There's also another factor: the processed food industry. When food researchers concluded fats were a health hazard the government changed dietary guidelines. Food processors faced a problem because they used fats as a flavor enhancer. To restore flavor they began adding small amounts of sugar to foods like lunch meat, bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter. Today, three-quarters of the 600,000 available processed food items contain some form of added sugar.
Although difficult given your available supermarket choices, limiting your sugar intake to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day will reduce your risk for dental and some general diseases. There are things you can do: replace processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables; read food labels for sugar content to make better purchasing decisions; drink water for hydration rather than soda (which can contain two-thirds of your daily recommended sugar allowance), sports drinks or juices; and exercise regularly.
Keeping your sugar consumption under control will help you reduce the risk of tooth decay. You'll be helping your overall health too.
If you would like more information on the effect of sugar on 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 “The Bitter Truth about Sugar.”
The American Diabetes Association has declared November National Diabetes Month. If you or a loved one has diabetes, you may already know that diabetes puts you at greater risk for gum disease. Let's look at four must-know facts about diabetes and gum disease.
#1. Gum disease is an acknowledged complication of diabetes.
High levels of blood sugar can interfere with your mouth's ability to fight infection, making you more susceptible to gum disease. People with poorly controlled diabetes may have more severe gum disease and may ultimately lose more teeth due to gum disease—in fact, one in five people who have lost all their teeth have diabetes.
#2. Gum disease makes diabetes harder to control.
Diabetes and gum disease are a two-way street when it comes to adverse health effects. Not only does diabetes increase the risk of gum disease, but gum disease can make diabetes harder to manage. Infections such as gum disease can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This is because chronic inflammation can throw the body's immune system into overdrive, which affects blood sugar levels. Since higher blood sugar weakens the body's ability to fight infection, untreated gum disease may raise the risk of complications from diabetes.
#3. You can do a lot to take charge of your health.
If you have diabetes and gum disease, you may feel as if you've been hit with a double whammy. While it's true that having both conditions means you are tasked with managing two chronic diseases, there is a lot you can do to take care of your health. Do your best to control blood sugar by taking prescribed medications, following a balanced diet, and exercising. In addition, pay special attention to your oral healthcare routine at home: Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day can go a long way in preserving good oral health.
#4. Preventing and managing gum disease should be a team effort.
We can work together to prevent, treat, and control periodontal disease. Come in for regular professional dental cleanings and checkups so we can monitor the health of your teeth and gums and provide specialized treatment such as deep cleanings when necessary. Diligent dental care can improve your oral health and help control your diabetes.
Remember, we're on your team. Let us know if there have been changes in your diabetes, your medication, or your oral health. If you have questions about diabetes and your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
There are few more painful experiences than a toothache. You can't ignore it: it's as if your mouth is screaming for relief.
But while the throbbing pain can tell you something's wrong, it may not be clear exactly what's wrong. There's more than one possibility — it could be with the tooth itself, the gums around the tooth or a combination of both.
In the first case, a toothache could be a sign of severe tooth decay within the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp. The pain you feel comes from the nerves within the pulp under attack from the infection.
For this level of decay there's one primary way to save the tooth and stop the pain: a root canal treatment. In this procedure we remove all the infected and dead tissue from the pulp and fill the empty chamber and root canals with a special filling. We then seal and crown the tooth to prevent further infection.
Another source of toothache happens when your gums have become painfully inflamed due to infection. This is usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease, triggered by a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces known as plaque. In this case, we must remove all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from tooth and gum surfaces, including on the roots. Your gums can then heal and return to health.
But your situation could be more complex. Untreated tooth decay can advance to the roots and subsequently infect the gums. Likewise advanced gum disease can pass the infection from the gums to the root and into the pulp.Â For such cases you may need a specialist, either an endodontist specializing in root canal issues or a periodontist specializing in the gums.Â They can better diagnose the origin and extent of the problem and offer advanced techniques and treatments to deal with it.
It's possible in these more complex situations your tooth has become diseased beyond repair and must be replaced. It's important, then, that you see us if you experience any significant tooth pain, even if it seems to go away. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating the cause of your pain, the better your chances of regaining your dental health.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
There are plenty of good reasons to quit smoking. Here's one more if you're considering replacing a missing tooth with a dental implant: smoking increases your risk of implant failure.
By and large, dental implants are the most reliable and durable tooth replacement option, with more than a 95% success rate after ten years. But that still leaves a small percentage that fail — and twice as many of those failures are in smokers than in non-smokers.
To understand why, we need to look at how smoking affects oral health. Besides burning and thickening the surface skin cells inside the mouth, inhaled smoke can also damage salivary glands and lead to dry mouth. Reduced saliva creates an environment friendly to bacteria, which increases the risk of infection and disease.
The nicotine in tobacco also restricts the myriad of blood vessels that course through the teeth and gums. The resulting reduced blood flow deprives teeth and gums not only of nutrients but disease-fighting antibodies. The mouth takes longer to heal and can't fight infection as well.
The key to an implant's success lies with its titanium post imbedded in the jaw bone to take the place of the tooth root. Titanium attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to the post over a period of time and create a stronger hold. But the health effects of smoking inhibit this process. Furthermore, slower healing caused by smoking increases the risk of infection, the number one cause of early implant loss.
If you want to improve your chances for a successful implant — not to mention improve your overall health — you should quit smoking. The prospect of a dental implant could be a useful incentive to enroll in a smoking cessation program.
At the very least we suggest you stop smoking a week before implant surgery and then for at least two weeks after to help promote good healing. And you should pay close attention to your daily oral hygiene — brushing and flossing at least once — and regular, semi-annual dental visits for cleanings and checkups.
Smoking can harm your health. If you're considering an implant, it could also harm your chances of a successful outcome.
If you would like more information on 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 Implants & Smoking.”
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