Laying out goals for the New Year is a great way to inspire yourself to make positive changes that can improve your health. For example, many habits—both good and bad—affect the health of your teeth and gums. Here’s a list of risky habits to kick, and mouth-healthy habits to adopt:
Habits That Risk Oral Health
Smoking. As if oral cancer weren’t enough to worry about, smoking also promotes gum disease and tooth loss. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smokers have double the risk of gum disease compared to nonsmokers. And according to the Academy of General Dentistry, smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as nonsmokers. For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov.
Snacking. Nibbling all day can create the perfect conditions for tooth decay—especially if your snacks contain sugar and other carbohydrates. Sticky snacks like cookies, crackers, chips and candy bars that cling to teeth tend to remain in the mouth and attract decay-causing oral bacteria. The acid these bacteria produce can penetrate the enamel of your teeth, causing cavities.
Soft Drinks. Speaking of tooth-eroding acid, soft drinks have plenty of it. And this includes both regular and diet varieties of soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. The healthiest drink for your teeth is water!
Brushing. You probably brush your teeth every day already, but are you doing it correctly? To get the most benefit from this healthy habit, brush twice each day for a full two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with toothpaste that contains fluoride, and don’t scrub too harshly!
Flossing. Yes, it’s worth the effort! If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about 40% of your tooth surfaces. A toothbrush just can’t reach in between teeth, where decay-causing dental plaque can hide. If you find dental floss difficult to work with, try using disposable floss holders.
Regular Dental Checkups. Keep up a regular schedule of professional teeth cleanings and exams! This allows us to remove any hardened dental plaque (tartar) that has built up on your teeth, screen you for oral cancer, and treat minor dental problems before they become major ones. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to review your at-home oral hygiene.
If you have any questions about how to improve your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home” and “10 Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.”
There is much to contend with as we grow older, including a higher risk for dental disease. One possible contributing factor: dry mouth from a lack of saliva.
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands secrete less than the normal two to four pints a day. Saliva performs a number of functions, but perhaps the most important for dental health is as an acid neutralizer. Within a half hour to hour after eating, saliva can restore the mouth's normal pH level to prevent acid from softening tooth enamel. When there isn't enough saliva, acid levels stay high leading to erosion of the enamel. This vastly increases the chances for tooth decay.
Although there are several causes for dry mouth, one of the more common is as a side effect from certain medications. It's estimated over 500 drugs — many taken by seniors — can cause dry mouth, including diuretics for high blood pressure and heart failure, antidepressants, and antihistamines. Some diseases like diabetes or Parkinson's may also reduce saliva flow, as well as radiation and chemotherapy.
If you've developed chronic dry mouth, there are some things that may help restore adequate saliva flow. If medication is the cause you can talk to your doctor about an alternative medication or add a few sips of water before swallowing the pills and a full glass afterwards. You should also drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages (water is the best) during the day and cut back on sugary or acidic foods. And a cool-air humidifier running while you sleep may also help keep your mouth moist.
We may further recommend an over-the-counter or prescription stimulant for saliva. For example, xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that's found in many gums and mints, has been found to stimulate saliva and reduce the risk of tooth decay as an added benefit.
Last but not least, be sure to brush and floss daily to remove disease-causing plaque and see us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups (if your mouth is very dry, three to four times a year is a better prevention program). Managing chronic dry mouth along with proper oral hygiene will help ensure your mouth continues to stay healthy as you grow older.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment for dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
Magician Michael Grandinetti mystifies and astonishes audiences with his sleight of hand and mastery of illusion. But when he initially steps onto the stage, it’s his smile that grabs the attention. “The first thing… that an audience notices is your smile; it’s what really connects you as a person to them,” Michael told an interviewer.
He attributes his audience-pleasing smile to several years of orthodontic treatment as a teenager to straighten misaligned teeth, plus a lifetime of good oral care. “I’m so thankful that I did it,” he said about wearing orthodontic braces. “It was so beneficial. And… looking at the path I’ve chosen, it was life-changing.”
Orthodontics — the dental subspecialty focused on treating malocclusions (literally “bad bites”) — can indeed make life-changing improvements. Properly positioned teeth are integral to the aesthetics of any smile, and a smile that’s pleasing to look at boosts confidence and self-esteem and makes a terrific first impression. Studies have even linked having an attractive smile with greater professional success.
There can also be functional benefits such as improved biting/chewing and speech, and reduced strain on jaw muscles and joints. Additionally, well-aligned teeth are easier to clean and less likely to trap food particles that can lead to decay.
The Science Behind the Magic
There are more options than ever for correcting bites, but all capitalize on the fact that teeth are suspended in individual jawbone sockets by elastic periodontal ligaments that enable them to move. Orthodontic appliances (commonly called braces or clear aligners) place light, controlled forces on teeth in a calculated fashion to move them into their new desired alignment.
The “gold standard” in orthodontic treatment remains the orthodontic band for posterior (back) teeth and the bonded bracket for front teeth. Thin, flexible wires threaded through the brackets create the light forces needed for repositioning. Traditionally the brackets have been made of metal, but for those concerned about the aesthetics, they can also be made out of a clear material. Lingual braces, which are bonded to the back of teeth instead of the front, are another less visible option. The most discrete appliance is the removable clear aligner, which consists of a progression of custom-made clear trays that reposition teeth incrementally.
How’s that for a disappearing act?!
If you would like more information about orthodontic treatment please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
X-rays are an important diagnostic tool in dentistry because of their ability to penetrate and pass through body tissues. Because they penetrate at different speeds depending on tissue density (shorter and thus darker on exposed film for soft tissues, longer and lighter for hard tissues like bone or teeth), we’re able to detect decay which appear as dark areas on x-ray film.
Without x-rays, the early detection and diagnosis of dental problems would be quite difficult. But despite its obvious benefits, it’s still a form of released energy that exposes patients to a certain amount of radiation. Since the potential health risk from radiation depends on the amount released (the dosage) and for how long and often a person is exposed, we must determine if the dosage and frequency from dental x-rays is a cause for concern.
It’s a common misconception to view any radiation exposure as dangerous. The truth is, however, we’re all exposed daily to radiation from the natural environment — about 2 to 4.5 millisieverts (the dosage measurement for radiation exposure) a year, or about 10 microsieverts (one-thousandth of a millisievert) every day.
In comparison, radiation exposure from routine dental x-rays is a fraction of this if measured over time. A set of four bitewing images of the back teeth produces 4 microsieverts of radiation, less than half the average daily exposure. One of the most comprehensive x-ray sets, a full mouth series of 18-20 images using “D” speed film, results in an exposure of 85 microsieverts, equaling about a week of normal radiation exposure.
These thoroughly researched rates help demonstrate that regular dental x-rays are relatively safe. What’s more, x-ray technology has continued to advance since first used in the mid-20th Century. With innovations in film and digital processing, today’s equipment produces only 80% of the radiation exposure of earlier machines. In effect, we’ve increased our capabilities to more accurately detect and diagnose issues through x-rays, while lowering the amount of radiation exposure.
Of course, a person’s annual exposure rate may differ from others. If you have concerns for yourself or your family about x-ray radiation exposure, please feel free to discuss this with us. Our primary goal is to improve your oral health without undue risk to your health in general.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and safety, 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 “X-Ray Frequency and Safety.”
Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better oral 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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