We’re all familiar with “naughty” and “nice” lists for food: “nice” items are beneficial or at least harmless; on the other hand, those on the “naughty” list are not and should be avoided. And processed sugar has had top billing on many people’s “naughty” list for some time now.
And for good reason: it’s linked to many physical ills including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. As a favorite food for oral bacteria that cause dental disease, sugar can also increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Most people agree that reducing sugar in their diet is a great idea health-wise. But there’s one small problem: a great many of us like sugar—a lot. No matter how hard we try, it’s just plain difficult to avoid. Thanks perhaps to our ancient ancestors, we’re hard-wired to crave it.
But necessity is the mother of invention, which is why we’ve seen the development over the past half century of artificial sweeteners, alternatives to sugar that promise to satisfy people’s “sweet tooth” without the harmful health effects. When it comes to dental health, these substitute sweeteners won’t contribute to bacterial growth and thus can lower disease risk.
But are they safe? Yes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has approved six types of artificial sweeteners for human consumption: acesulfame K, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, sucralose and rebaudioside A. According to the FDA any adverse effects caused by artificial sweeteners are limited to rare conditions like phenylketonuria, which prevents those with the disease from safely digesting aspartame.
So, unless you have such a condition, you can safely substitute whatever artificial sweetener you prefer for sugar. And if dental health is a particular concern, you might consider including xylitol. This alcohol-based sweetener may further deter tooth decay—bacteria can’t digest it, so their population numbers in the mouth may actually decrease. You’ll find xylitol used as a sweetener primarily in gums, candies and mints.
Reducing sugar consumption, couple with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, will certainly lower your risk of costly dental problems. Using a substitute sweetener might just help you do that.
If you would like more information on sweetener alternatives, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
What should you do if your child complains about a toothache? Before calling our office, try first to learn what you can about the toothache.
You should first ask them where exactly the pain is coming from — one particular tooth or a generalized, dull ache. Also try to find out, as best they can tell you, when they first noticed the pain. Try then to look at the tooth or area where they indicate the pain is coming from: since tooth decay is a prime cause for tooth pain, you should look for any obvious signs of it like brown spots or cavities. You should also look at the gums around the teeth for any redness or swelling, a sign of an abscess or periodontal (gum) disease.
If you notice any of these signs, the pain persists for more than a day, or it has kept the child awake during the night, you should have us examine them as soon as possible. If you notice facial swelling or they’re running a fever, please call and we will see them immediately. If it’s definitely tooth decay, it won’t go away on its own. The longer we wait to treat it, the worse its effects in the mouth.
In the meantime, you should also try to alleviate the pain as best you can. If when looking in the mouth you noticed food debris (like a piece of hard candy) wedged between the teeth, try to gently remove it with dental floss. Give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen in an appropriate dosage for their age to relieve pain, or apply an ice pack on and off for about 5 minutes at a time to the outside of their jaw.
If any of these remedies stops the pain within an hour, you can wait until the next day to call for an appointment. If the pain persists, though, then an abscess could be developing — you should call that day to see us.
Regardless of when the pain stops, or whether you see any abnormal signs, it’s still important your child see us for an accurate diagnosis. Their toothache maybe trying to tell you something’s wrong — and the earlier a problem is found and treated, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on dental problems in young children, 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 “A Child’s Toothache.”
One of the health issues pregnant women should be concerned about is a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease. But you don’t have to be pregnant to have an increased risk — you also may be more susceptible to dental disease if you’re taking certain birth control pills.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, food debris that builds up on tooth and gum surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. If left untreated gum disease can eventually lead to the breakdown of connective gum tissue and cause tooth loss.
Pregnant women are at greater risk because of an increased level of female hormones (estrogen) in their blood stream. This causes a change in the blood vessels that supply the gums, making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. A number of birth control options also increase estrogen levels, causing much of the same effect. To heighten the effect, you may also have a predisposition toward gum disease by your genetics or a high stress level.
There are some things you can do, however, to help lower your risk if you’re taking birth control medication. First and foremost, practice a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing. If you’re unsure if your technique is effective, we can provide guidance and training to make sure you’re performing these tasks properly. You should also visit us at least twice a year for office cleanings and checkups: no matter how effective you are with brushing and flossing, plaque can still accumulate in hard to reach places and form hardened deposits known as calculus.
You should also be on the lookout for signs of disease like gum redness, swelling or bleeding. If you see any of these signs, contact us as soon as possible for a thorough examination. As with many other issues involving health, the sooner we begin treatment for gum disease the better your chances of stopping it before it does too much harm.
If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy or birth control, 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 “Pregnancy & Birth Control.”
When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
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