Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
While the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation have contributed to rising cancer survival rates, they can still have an adverse effect on the rest of the body. That includes the mouth: these treatments can damage healthy tissues like the salivary glands. The decrease in saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
While overcoming cancer is certainly the patient’s main health priority, it’s important for them to tend to their oral health. The best approach often involves a three-way partnership between patient, dentist and family caregivers all doing their part to keep the patient’s teeth, gums and mouth healthy during cancer treatment.
Here’s what each “partner” can do to protect a cancer patient’s oral health during treatment.
The dentist. To minimize dental disease odds, patients should enter cancer treatment with their teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Before beginning treatment, then, the dentist can assess their oral health status and recommend a treatment plan for any existing disease or condition. The dentist can also monitor a patient’s oral health during the treatment period.
The patient. Patients can do the most to protect their oral health by removing disease-causing plaque buildup with daily brushing and flossing, as well as maintaining their regular schedule of dental cleanings (if possible). They should also attempt to reduce dry mouth, a potential consequence of cancer treatment, by consuming more water and using saliva boosters like Xylitol-sweetened gums and mints. A nutritious diet is also important for protecting oral health.
The caregiver. Many cancer patients depend on family or friends to aid them during treatment. One of the best things a caregiver can do is act as a liaison between the patient and their medical and dental providers. When it comes to oral health, caregivers should be on the alert for any mouth changes including tooth pain, gum swelling or bleeding, foul breath and other signs of disease.
Focusing on oral health can be a daunting challenge for patients during their fight with cancer. But with help from their other partners, they can come out of this fight with their teeth, gums and mouth in good health.
If you would like more information on oral care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
What do dentures, retainers and nightguards have in common? Along with orthodontic aligners and athletic mouthguards, they’re all types of removable dental appliances. They also share another commonality: each one depends on the wearer caring for it to ensure its longevity.
The most important thing you can do for your appliance is to clean it regularly. Don’t use toothpaste, though, even with dentures: while your natural tooth enamel can handle the abrasive particles in toothpaste, your appliance’s materials may not. Toothpaste can create tiny scratches that can harbor disease-causing bacteria. Instead, use liquid dish detergent or hand soap with warm water.
Although boiling water may disinfect your appliance, it’s not advisable to use. Even hot water can distort plastic components and warp the appliance’s fit in your mouth. Likewise, don’t use bleach, which can fade the plastic color used to resemble gum tissue and break down the material’s composition. When you clean your appliance, use a brush — but not the one you use for your natural teeth. Use a soft toothbrush, a nail brush or a specialized brush for appliances like dentures.
You should also protect your appliance from damage. Some appliances like dentures have parts that can break if they’re dropped on a hard surface — like the porcelain in your sink. To prevent this, place a towel in the sink to cushion the appliance if it accidentally slips from your hand during cleaning. And when the appliance isn’t in your mouth, don’t keep it on a low table or night stand where small children or pets can easily get their hands (or paws) on it.
And one more thing: don’t wear your denture appliance around the clock — take it out, for instance, while you sleep. Leaving dentures in interferes with the acid-neutralizing and antibacterial function of your mouth’s saliva, which could increase your risk of disease (and bad breath).
Appliances can be an expensive investment in your dental health. By following these guidelines you’ll help protect that investment for years to come.
If you would like more information on caring for your dental appliance, 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 “10 Tips for Cleaning Your Oral Appliance.”
When you’re buying a tool or appliance, you compare brands for the best quality you can afford. There’s another important item that deserves the same level of scrutiny: your toothbrush. Choosing the right one for you can make a huge difference in your oral hygiene effectiveness.
But a visit to your store’s dental care aisle can dim your enthusiasm. You have plenty of options involving all manner of shapes, sizes and features. Perhaps too many: After a while, the sheer number of choices can paralyze your decision-making process.
You can streamline this selection process by concentrating on a few important toothbrush basics. First up for consideration: the bristles. While you may think a good stiff brush would be best, it’s actually the opposite—most dental professionals recommend softer bristles. That’s because hard bristles can potentially damage your teeth and gums over time.
Softer bristles are gentler on your teeth and just as effective for removing plaque, if you use the right technique and thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces. And look for rounded bristles, which are friendlier to your gums.
Next, look for a brush that feels right in your hand. If you have problems with manual dexterity, look for one with an oversized handle. Some brushes come with angled necks and tapered heads, which you may find effective in reaching less accessible back teeth. This might mean trying different brushes until you get one that’s right for you. Don’t worry, though, you’re not buying a brush for life—in fact, you should change out your brush every three to six months.
You’ll also rarely go wrong buying a toothbrush with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance on the packaging. This seal signifies the toothbrush has undergone testing and met the ADA’s standards for hygiene effectiveness. While some manufacturers of effective brushes don’t pursue this seal, you can be sure one with it has passed the test of quality.
It makes all the difference in the world having the right tool for the job. Be sure your toothbrush is the right one for you.
If you would like more information on toothbrushes and other dental care products, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes: How to Choose the Right Brush for Optimal Oral Health.”
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