You've probably heard your dentist say more than once to cut back on sweets. That's good advice not only for keeping your teeth healthy, but your whole body as well.
As a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that helps supply energy to the body's cells, sugar is prevalent naturally in many foods, particularly fruits and dairy. The form of which we're most concerned, though, is refined sugar added to candy, pastries and other processed foods.
Believe it or not, three out of four of the 600,000 food items on supermarket shelves contain refined sugar, often hiding under names like "high fructose corn syrup" or "evaporated cane syrup." So-called healthy foods with labels like "low fat" or "diet" have added sugar and chemicals to replace the taste of fat they've removed.
But perhaps the biggest sugar sources in the average U.S. diet are sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. With the added volume of sugar in processed foods, the growing consumption of sweetened beverages has pushed the average American's sugar intake to nearly 20 teaspoons a day—more than three times the recommended daily allowance.
And right along with the increased consumption of sugar, cases of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other systemic diseases have likewise risen. And, yes, preventable tooth decay continues to be a problem, especially in children, with sugar a major contributing factor in the prevalence of cavities.
So, what can you do to keep your daily sugar intake within healthy bounds?
- Check ingredient labels on packaged food for added sugar, chemicals or preservatives. If it contains sugar or "scientific"-sounding ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
- Be wary of health claims on food packaging. "Low fat," for example, is usually an indicator of added sugar.
- Drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sodas, sports drinks or even juices. Doing so will vastly lower your daily intake of sugar.
A healthy diet with much less sugar and regular exercise will help you stay healthy. And with a lower risk for tooth decay, your teeth will also reap the benefits.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on your oral and general 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 big day finally arrives when your braces come off. And there it is—your new, beautiful, straight smile! But on closer inspection you notice something else: tiny white spots on your teeth.
Those pale, chalky spots are called white spot lesions (WSLs). They occur when acid has contacted the tooth enamel for too long, dissolving essential minerals like calcium in those particular areas. The occurrences of WSLs during and after braces highlights a major challenge during orthodontic treatment—keeping your teeth clean.
Braces' wires and brackets tend to get in the way of brushing and flossing, making it easier to miss plaque—the bacterial film that produces acid—on tooth areas around the hardware. Those missed areas could in time lead to WSLs.
The main objective with WSLs is prevent them from occurring during braces wear as much as possible. To do this, you'll need to increase your time and effort brushing and flossing, especially around orthodontic hardware. You can make it easier, though, by using a few tools that often work better than regular toothbrushes and floss like interproximal toothbrushes, power brushes, floss threaders or water flossers.
You can also help lower your mouth's acidity by avoiding or limiting acidic foods and beverages, including juices, sodas, sports and energy drinks. And, by all means, keep up your regular dental cleaning schedule with your general dentist.
Should WSLs develop while you're wearing braces, don't panic. It's possible they'll diminish on their own, or at least not worsen. We can also foster re-mineralization of the enamel with applied fluoride, short bursts of laser light or a procedure called microabrasion that restores damaged areas below the enamel surface.
For more resistant WSLs, we can also inject a liquid tooth-colored resin into them that when hardened by a curing light can make those areas look translucent like normal enamel. We can also use other cosmetic solutions like bonding or veneers to improve your teeth's appearance.
Like other dental problems, dealing with a WSL is usually more successful if caught and treated early. So, check your teeth often while wearing braces, and if you notice anything unusual don't hesitate to call your dentist.
If you would like more information on oral care while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Unless you're 6 years old and on speed dial with the Tooth Fairy, a loose tooth isn't a good feeling. It's also a sign something is wrong in your mouth. If you don't take prompt action, you may lose that tooth for good.
To begin with, teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The thing to note about the ligament is that it does allow for tooth movement, which serves as a “shock absorber” against the forces generated while biting and chewing.
But that movement is normally so slight, you won't perceive it. If you do, chances are there's a problem with the ligament attachment, which may have been damaged due to trauma or disease.
A hard blow to the face could certainly damage both the teeth and their attachments. But it can also happen if one tooth extends out farther than the rest and absorbs more stress during chewing. You could encounter similar damage if you attempt DIY orthodontics or wear tongue jewelry.
The more common source of ligament damage, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, usually caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on tooth surfaces. If not treated, the infection can advance deeper into the gum tissues (and eventually the supporting bone), causing the ligaments to weaken and detach. In fact, a loose tooth is often a sign of well-advanced gum disease.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Our first step is to ascertain the underlying cause and initiate any needed treatment. We may also want to splint a loose tooth to adjacent teeth to prevent excessive movement while the ligaments heal and reform their attachment to the tooth.
There will be times when a loose tooth is beyond repair. In that case, it may be best to remove the tooth and install a life-like replacement like a dental implant. But that's not inevitable. If at all possible and practical, we'll try to save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on loose permanent teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
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