Posts for category: Oral Health
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
February is Gum Disease Awareness Month, and we heartily agree that gums deserve their own month of special recognition. After all, they play an essential role keeping teeth securely in place, and their network of tiny blood vessels supplies important nutrients and disease-fighting agents that teeth depend on. Yet gum disease affects nearly 50% of people over age 30 and 70% of those aged 65 and older, making it the most common chronic inflammatory disease among adults.
Gum disease starts with the thin buildup of bacteria and food particles called plaque. When plaque spreads below the gum line, the gums can become inflamed, resulting in a mild stage of gum disease called gingivitis, which often goes undetected. If not treated, it can progress to a more serious form called periodontitis, which can break down the gums and underlying bone, causing teeth to become loose or even fall out. In fact, periodontitis is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults—and its effects can range beyond the mouth. Periodontitis is linked to many other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory ailments and Alzheimer's disease, among others.
The good news is that gum disease is usually preventable through good oral hygiene and, when caught in its early stages, reversible. To take the best care of your gums, follow these tips:
- Look out for signs of gum disease. Some signs include red, puffy or tender gums, gums that bleed when you brush and floss, gums that recede or separate from the teeth, teeth that are loose or shifting, and persistent bad breath or a persistent bad taste in your mouth.
- Make good dental hygiene a daily habit. To keep dental plaque at bay, brush your teeth morning and night with fluoride toothpaste, and floss once a day.
- Keep up with regular dental visits. It is especially important to come in at least twice a year for checkups and professional cleanings if you have gum disease or another systemic health condition like diabetes.
- Quit tobacco. Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco are major risk factors for gum disease and certain cancers. When it comes to quitting, you may think “easier said than done.” While we realize it's hard to quit, we also know it's doable and the rewards are priceless.
- Eat a healthy diet. Scientific studies have found that a diet low in refined carbohydrates and rich in whole grains, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D, antioxidants and fiber can help control gum disease by reducing inflammation in the body.
Being aware of early gum disease symptoms and taking steps to maintain good oral health can lead to better gum health as well as better overall health.
If you would like more information about gum disease prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
February is Children's Dental Health Month—the perfect time to talk about the oral health of the little ones in your family. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one out of every five children ages 5 to 11 has at least one untreated cavity. Although this statistic may not seem terribly significant given that primary teeth fall out anyway, dental disease is a concern even for kids.
Just as with adult teeth, baby teeth are needed for eating, speaking and smiling. Besides these obvious functions, primary teeth serve a crucial role as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth. If they are lost early, the adult teeth could come in crooked, crowded or out of place, increasing the chances of needing complex and costly treatment later. And because the enamel on primary teeth is thinner than that of permanent teeth, baby teeth are more vulnerable to decay, which can spread quickly—both to the inside of the tooth and to neighboring teeth. Decaying teeth can cause pain, which may interfere with getting proper nutrition. In addition, children with poor dental health are more likely to miss school and are much more likely to suffer from decay in their permanent teeth.
Fortunately, many dental problems can be avoided by following a few guidelines:
Instill good oral hygiene habits in your child. Teach children to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and, when they are old enough, to floss once a day. (A handheld flosser can make flossing easier for young ones.) Preventing dental disease through good daily habits can save a lot of trouble down the line.
Offer nutritious foods. For healthy teeth and a healthy body, encourage your child to make nutritious food choices. Instead of sugary snacks, opt for fruits, vegetables and cheese. And choose plain water instead of soda, fruit juice or sweetened beverages.
Keep up with regular checkups and cleanings. The world's health focus has been all about COVID-19 and in an effort to isolate as much as possible some parents may have put off routine dental checkups for their children. However, it is important for the dental team to monitor the health of little mouths to keep small problems from turning into bigger, potentially painful ones. When it comes to infection control, dental professionals go above and beyond the minimum requirements to protect you and your loved ones. We are committed to a higher standard, following protocols that help ensure your health and safety.
Talk with us about preventive treatments. During your child's visit, ask whether a topical fluoride treatment or dental sealants are recommended. These affordable ways to help prevent cavities can benefit many children.
The key to healthy smiles for life is to start early. A good day-to-day dental hygiene habit along with healthy food choices and regular dental checkups can set your child on the course for a lifetime of good oral health.
If you would like more information about how to maintain your child's dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
We're all tempted occasionally to use our teeth in ways that might risk damage. Hopefully, though, you've never considered anything close to what singer, songwriter and now social media persona Jason Derulo recently tried in a TikTok video—attempting to eat corn on the cob spinning on a power drill. The end result seemed to be a couple of broken front teeth, although many of his followers suspected an elaborate prank.
Prank or not, subjecting your teeth to “motorized corn”—or a host of other less extreme actions or habits—is not a good thing, especially if you have veneers, crowns or other dental work. Although teeth can withstand a lot, they're not invincible.
Here, then, are four things you should do to help ensure your teeth stay healthy, functional and intact.
Clean your teeth daily. Strong teeth are healthy teeth, so you want to do all you can to prevent tooth decay or gum disease. Besides semi-annual dental cleanings, the most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth daily. These hygiene tasks help remove dental plaque, a thin biofilm that is the biggest culprit in dental disease that could weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to injury.
Avoid biting on hard objects. Teeth's primary purpose is to break down food for digestion, not to break open nuts or perform similar tasks. You should also avoid habitual chewing on hard objects like pencils, nails or ice to relieve stress. And, you may need to be careful eating apples or other foods with hard surfaces if you have veneers or composite bonding on your teeth.
Wear a sports mouthguard. If you or a family member are regularly involved with sports like basketball, baseball/softball or football (even informally), you can protect your teeth from facial blows by wearing an athletic mouthguard. Although you can obtain a retail variety in most stores selling sporting goods, a custom-made guard by a dentist offers the best protection and comfort.
Visit your dentist regularly. As mentioned before, semi-annual dental cleanings help remove hidden plaque and tartar and further minimize your risk of disease. Regular dental visits also give us a chance to examine your mouth for any signs of decay or gum disease, and to check on your dental health overall. Optimizing your dental health plays a key part in preventing dental damage.
You should expect an unpleasant outcome involving your teeth with power tools. But a lot less could still damage them: To fully protect your dental health, be sure you practice daily oral care, avoid tooth contact with hard objects and wear a mouthguard for high-risk physical activities.
If you would like more information on caring for your cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”