Put teeth in contact with acid from oral bacteria and you've created the conditions for tooth decay. Also known as caries, tooth decay is the most common human disease on the planet, responsible for destroying countless teeth.
We fortunately have effective treatments for arresting decay and minimizing its damage. But it's a far better strategy to prevent it in the first place—a strategy well within your reach if you and your dentist can reduce your individual risk factors for the disease.
Of these risk factors, there's one in particular we can't control—the genes we inherit from our parents. Researchers estimate up to 50 possible genes can influence whether or not a person develops cavities. Fortunately, though, most think the overall genetic influence has minimal impact on a person's oral health.
And although there's not much about your genetic makeup regarding cavity development that you can change, there are other factors you can definitely do something about. Here are 3 of the most important that deserve your attention if you want to prevent tooth decay.
Dental plaque. The main trigger for tooth decay and other dental diseases is a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque, the main food source for the bacteria that cause disease. You can reduce this risk by removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing, along with a professional cleaning every six months.
Saliva. This essential bodily fluid helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acid. Problems can arise, though, if you have insufficient saliva. If you suffer from "dry mouth," you can improve saliva flow by talking to your dentist or doctor about changing medications, drinking more water or using saliva enhancement products.
Diet. Bacteria feed mainly on sugar and other refined carbohydrates. So, the more sweets, pastries and processed foods you eat, the more bacterial growth you can expect to occur. By changing your diet to more whole foods like fresh vegetables, protein and dairy, you may be able to reduce bacterial growth and your risk for decay.
Tooth decay always happens for a reason. By addressing these and other controllable risk factors, you may be able to stop decay from forming.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Hannah Bronfman, well-known DJ and founder of the health and beauty website HBFIT.com, took a tumble while biking a few years ago. After the initial pain and bruising subsided, all seemed well—until she started experiencing headaches, fatigue and unexplained weight gain. Her doctors finally located the source—a serious infection emanating from a tooth injured during the accident.
It's easy to think of the human body as a loose confederation of organs and tissues that by and large keep their problems to themselves. But we'd do better to consider the body as an organic whole—and that a seemingly isolated condition may actually disrupt other aspects of our health.
That can be the case with oral infections triggered by tooth decay or gum disease, or from trauma as in Bronfman's case. These infections, which can inflict severe damage on teeth and gums, may also contribute to health issues beyond the mouth. They can even worsen serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
The bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease could be the mechanism for these extended problems. It's possible for bacteria active during an oral infection to migrate to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If that happens, they can spread infection elsewhere, as it appears happened with Bronfman.
But perhaps the more common way for a dental disease to impact general health is through chronic inflammation. Initially, this defensive response by the body is a good thing—it serves to isolate diseased or injured tissues from healthier tissues. But if it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause its own share of damage.
The inflammation associated with gum disease can lead to weakened gum tissues that lose their attachment to teeth. But clinical research over the last few years also points to another possibility—that periodontal inflammation could worsen the inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Because of this potential harm not only to your teeth and gums but also to the rest of your body, you shouldn't take an oral injury or infection lightly. If you've had an accident involving your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible for a complete examination. You should also make an appointment if you notice signs of infection like swollen or bleeding gums.
Prompt dental treatment can help you minimize potential damage to your teeth and gums. It could also protect the rest of your health.
If you would like more information about the effects of dental problems on the rest of the body, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart and Gum Diseases.”
Over the last decade, the use of e-cigarettes—popularly known as vaping—has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. It's the "in" thing, especially among younger adults, fueled by the widespread idea that it's a safer nicotine delivery system than traditional smoking.
But growing evidence is beginning to say otherwise—that people are simply trading one unhealthy habit for another. Besides a possible link to lung disease, vaping may also adversely impact a person's oral health.
An e-cigarette is a handheld device that heats a mixture of water, flavoring and chemicals into a vapor inhaled by the user. As with traditional cigarettes, nicotine is the active ingredient in vaping mixtures, and perhaps just as addictive. One vaping cartridge, in fact, can equal the nicotine in 20 tobacco cigarettes.
Nicotine is a good starting point for analyzing vaping's potential harm on oral health. In short, nicotine is not your mouth's friend. It constricts oral blood vessels, that in turn decreases oxygen, nutrients and infection-fighting agents delivered to the gums. Individuals who routinely ingest nicotine therefore have a much higher risk for gum disease.
And, although the various flavorings in vaping mixtures have pleasant-sounding names like "cotton candy," "mint" or "cherry crush," these additives can also cause oral problems. There's some evidence that when the flavoring chemical transforms from a liquid to a gas, it may dry out and irritate the inner membranes of the mouth. This in turn can increase the risks for bacterial infection leading to tooth decay or gum disease.
There's also evidence other substances in vaping liquids may also prove unhealthy, even carcinogenic. This raises concerns among many doctors and dentists that vaping could eventually prove to be a prime cause for increased oral cancer.
Given what we know—as well as what we don't—it's wise to avoid either smoking or vaping. We know the first habit definitely puts your oral health at risk—and the growing evidence shows the latter may be just as harmful. Avoiding both habits may be in your best interest—not only for your overall health, but for your mouth as well.
If you would like more information on vaping and 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
Hearing the words, "You're going to have a baby," can change your life—as surely as the next nine months can too. Although an exciting time, pregnancy can be hectic with many things concerning you and your baby's health competing for your attention.
Be sure, then, that you include dental care on your short list of health priorities. It may seem tempting to "put things off" regarding your teeth and gums. But there are good reasons to keep up your dental care—for you and your baby.
For you: a higher risk of dental disease. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can trigger outcomes that increase your dental disease risk. For one, you may encounter cravings that include carbohydrates like sugar. Bacteria feed on sugar, which can cause both tooth decay and gum disease. This change in hormones can also trigger a form of gum disease called pregnancy gingivitis.
For your baby: dental-related complications. Some studies show evidence that a mother's oral bacteria can pass through the placenta and affect the baby. This may in turn spark an inflammatory response in the mother's body, creating potential complications during pregnancy. Other research points to what could result: Women with diseased gums are more likely to deliver premature or underweight babies than those with healthy gums.
Fortunately, you can minimize dental disease during pregnancy and protect both you and your baby.
- Keep up regular dental cleanings and checkups during pregnancy;
- Limit consumption of sweets and other sugary foods;
- Brush and floss every day to remove dental plaque, which feeds bacteria;
- See your dentist at the first sign of swollen, painful or bleeding gums;
- And, inform your dentist that you're pregnant—it could affect your treatment plan.
Although it's wise to put off dental work of a cosmetic or elective nature, you shouldn't postpone essential procedures. Both the American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists approve of pregnant women undergoing therapeutic dental work.
Dental care during pregnancy shouldn't be an option. Maintaining your oral health could help you and your baby avoid unpleasant complications.
If you would like more information on dental care during pregnancy, 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 Care During Pregnancy.”
You know what people say: "Protect your tooth enamel, and it will protect your teeth." Then again, maybe you've never heard anyone say that—but it's still true. Super strong enamel protects teeth from oral threats that have the potential to do them in.
Unfortunately, holding the title of "Hardest substance in the human body" doesn't make enamel indestructible. It's especially threatened by oral acid, which can soften its mineral content and lead to erosion.
That doesn't have to happen. Here are 5 things you can do to protect your enamel—and your teeth.
Don't brush too often. Brushing is essential for removing bacterial plaque, the main cause for dental disease. But more isn't always good—brushing too frequently can wear down enamel (and damage your gums, too). So, limit daily brushing to no more than twice a day.
Don't brush too soon. Oral acid normally peaks at mealtime, which can put your enamel into a softer than normal state. No worries, though, because saliva neutralizes acid within about an hour. But brushing before saliva finishes rebuffering could cause tiny bits of softened enamel to flake off—so, wait an hour after eating to brush.
Stop eating—right before turning in for the night, that is. Because saliva flow drops significantly during sleep, the decreased saliva may struggle to buffer acid from that late night snack. To avoid this situation, end your eating or snacking at least an hour before bedtime.
Increase your calcium. This essential mineral that helps us maintain strong bones and teeth can also help our enamel remineralize faster after acid contact. Be sure, then, to include calcium-rich foods and calcium-fortified beverages in your diet.
Limit acidic beverages. Many sodas, sports and energy drinks are high in acid, which can skew your mouth's normal pH. Go with low-acidic beverages like milk or water, or limit acidic drinks to mealtimes when saliva flows more freely. Also, consider using a straw while drinking acidic beverages to lessen their contact with teeth.
Remember, enamel isn't a renewable resource—once it's gone, it's gone. Take care of your enamel, then, so it will continue to take care of you!
If you would like more information on caring for your tooth enamel, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
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