You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.
That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.
What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.
This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.
But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.
In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.
Braces can be a long, involved process, but gaining a more attractive smile and better oral health is worth it. Sometimes, though, braces can produce unintended short-term consequences.
Brace brackets and wires do the work of moving teeth to better positions. They can, however, hinder the wearer's hygiene efforts to remove plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, from tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup increases the risk of dental disease and other ill effects.
One such effect while you're wearing braces is the formation of tiny spots that look pale and chalky on otherwise smooth and polished enamel. These are white spot lesions (WSLs), where acid has remained for too long on the tooth enamel. They occur because acid-producing bacteria escape removal during brushing and flossing due to the braces hardware.
We want to try to prevent WSLs while wearing braces, and not just because they're unattractive. You're actually looking at enamel erosion, which could lead to cavity development at those weakened spots.
Although difficult for you as a braces wearer, daily brushing and flossing is crucial to WSL prevention. You'll need to take more time to be sure you're reaching all around the wires and brackets. You can improve your effectiveness with special brushes for braces and floss threaders or water irrigators. You can also help keep acid levels low by cutting back on acidic foods and beverages, especially sodas, coffee or spicy foods.
Even if you develop WSLs we can treat them effectively, especially if caught early. One way is by aiding enamel re-mineralization through saliva stimulation (the mouth's acid neutralizer) or applying fluoride to the teeth to strengthen enamel. We can also use caries infiltration, a technique that injects tooth-colored resin below the surface of the lesion. This strengthens the weakened enamel and gives the area the appearance of translucence like normal enamel.
While you're wearing braces, focus diligently on keeping your teeth clean of plaque and keep up your regular cleaning visits with us. If you notice any unusual discolorations or abnormalities, see us as soon as possible. Stopping WSLs from developing will help ensure your teeth are healthy and attractive after the braces come off.
If you would like more information on dental care with braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
If while watching a Seattle Seahawks game you thought you saw wide receiver D. K. Metcalf sucking on a “binky,” your eyes weren’t deceiving you. Well, sort of not—he’s actually been known to wear a mouth and lip guard shaped like a child’s pacifier.
Metcalf isn’t the only pro football player customizing this essential piece of safety equipment. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has been seen sporting “vampire fangs.” And Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, has a series of interchangeable guards with various designs and colors.
You may say, “That’s the NFL, so of course players have the money and fame to dress up their mouthguards with a little flair.” But custom mouthguards aren’t out of reach for the average athlete—in fact, it’s actually a sound idea. Not so much for expressing personality, but for the comfort and protective advantages that a custom mouthguard may have over retail varieties.
Usually made of high-resistant plastic, an athletic mouthguard absorbs blows to the face and mouth during hard contacts in sports like football, basketball and hockey. Mandated by many organized sports associations, mouthguards can prevent dental and facial injuries like chipped or knocked out teeth, gum abrasions or jaw fractures. There’s even some evidence they reduce the risk of concussion.
Many amateur players use what is known as a “boil and bite” mouthguard, available in retail sporting goods stores. They’re softened first, usually in hot water, and then placed in the mouth and clenched between the jaws to obtain a somewhat individualized fit.
Although they do provide some level of protection, a boil and bite mouthguard can’t match the accuracy of a custom mouthguard produced by a dentist based on impressions and measurements of an individual player’s mouth. As a result, custom mouthguards can be made thinner than many boil and bite guards, increasing their comfort while being worn. More importantly, their accurate fit enhances their protective capabilities.
As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive than their retail counterparts, and with younger athletes whose mouth structures are still growing, it may be necessary to upgrade a custom guard after a few seasons. Still, the cost of a custom mouthguard may be well worth the superior protection it provides for your own little star athlete. And although it may not necessarily look like a binky or vampire fangs, a custom mouthguard could make their playing experience safer and more comfortable.
Holistic medicine aims to provide healthcare for the “whole” person. While it's a worthy approach, the term has also been used to advance ideas, including in dentistry, at odds with solid scientific evidence.
Here are 4 “holistic” oral health claims and why you should be wary of them.
Root canals are dangerous. It might be shocking to learn that some claim this routine tooth-saving procedure increases the risk of disease. The claim comes from an early 20th Century belief that leaving a “dead” organ like a root-canaled tooth in the body damages the immune system. The idea, though, has been thoroughly disproved, most recently by a 2013 oral cancer study that found not only no evidence of increased cancer, but an actual decrease in cancer risk following root canal treatment.
X-rays are hazardous. X-rays have improved tooth decay treatment by allowing dentists to detect it at earlier stages. Even so, many advise avoiding X-rays because, as a form of radiation, high levels could damage health. But dentists take great care when x-raying patients, performing them only as needed and at the lowest possible exposure. In fact, people receive less radiation through dental X-rays than from their normal background environment.
Silver fillings are toxic. Known for their strength and stability, dentists have used silver fillings for generations. But now many people are leery of them because it includes mercury, which has been linked to several health problems. Research concludes that there's no cause for alarm, or any need to remove existing fillings: The type of mercury used in amalgam is different from the toxic kind and doesn't pose a health danger.
Fluoride contributes to disease. Nothing has been more beneficial in dental care or more controversial than fluoride. A proven weapon against tooth decay, fluoride has nonetheless been associated with ailments like cancer or Alzheimer's disease. But numerous studies have failed to find any substantial disease link with fluoride except fluorosis, heavy tooth staining due to excess fluoride. Fluorosis, though, doesn't harm the teeth otherwise and is easily prevented by keeping fluoride consumption within acceptable limits.
Each of these supposed “dangers” plays a prominent role in preventing or minimizing dental disease. If you have a concern, please talk with your dentist to get the true facts about them.
If you would like more information on best dental practices, 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 “Holistic Dentistry: Fads vs. Evidence-Based Practices.”
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that produces widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The pain, muscle spasms and tingling it causes can disrupt sleep, alter moods and impair memory function.
Dealing with just this one condition can be overwhelming. But did you know 3 out 4 fibromyalgia patients also develop chronic pain and dysfunction involving their jaw joints? Known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), these jaw joint problems cause pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the jaws that can interfere with eating and speaking. TMD can also contribute to headaches and earaches.
Many researchers believe this prevalence of TMD among fibromyalgia patients stems from both conditions originating from the same primary cause—a malfunction within the central nervous system. In both cases, the brain and spinal cord may not be able to process pain signals in a normal fashion. This malfunction could also be generating and amplifying pain signals even when nerves are receiving no stimulation.
For decades now, the most effective treatment strategy for TMD has been to manage the symptoms with physical therapy and exercises, thermal therapy or medications. Relief for fibromyalgia has depended on medication and relaxation techniques like biofeedback therapy. But with the evidence of some connection between the two conditions, it may be helpful to coordinate treatment for both with a team approach involving all your healthcare providers, rather than treat them separately.
To that end, make sure both your dentist or physician treating you for TMD and your physician treating your fibromyalgia each know about the other condition. Consulting together, your healthcare team may find treatments (like certain drugs that counteract neurotransmitter imbalances) that might help reduce symptoms in both conditions. And cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation and other therapeutic pain management techniques can help you cope with the pain.
Continued research into these two debilitating conditions and the possible links between them may have an effect on how we treat both. A holistic approach to treating them could be the wave of the future.
If you would like more information on the links between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
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