Posts for tag: oral health
By the time you reach adulthood, roughly 100 trillion microscopic organisms will have taken up residence in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. Most are bacteria, a domain of the animal kingdom considered synonymous with disease. But only a few of the thousands of bacterial species cause us harm; the rest are either benign or actually beneficial to our health, including in our mouths.
Dentistry pioneered much of our knowledge about bacteria, developing processes used to identify, classify and understand those species inhabiting our mouths. Science as a whole is catching up with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) begun in 2007. Through HMP, researchers have catalogued and begun to study more than 10,000 bacterial species.
We’re finding that our bodies develop a symbiotic relationship with many of these creatures invisible to the naked eye. During our infancy the bacteria we ingest from birth and breast feeding begin to interact with our body’s immune system, “teaching” it to refrain from attacking friendly organisms that contribute to health and searching and destroying enemy species that cause disease.
We’re also learning that an imbalance with our individual population of bacteria has links with disease. Our digestive system is a prime example: bacteria related to obesity can overpopulate our digestive tract, while malnutrition can create an environment that produces too many bacteria that inhibit digestion of vitamins and other nutrients.
The same microbial imbalance can occur in the mouth. For example, our typical Western diet encourages the growth of bacteria most associated with tooth decay (Streptococcus mutans). We’re also finding that tobacco smoking creates a mouth environment more conducive to the bacteria that cause gum disease. Just by quitting smoking you can alter that environment to encourage growth of health-promoting bacteria and inhibit growth of malevolent species.
The desired outcome of this knowledge is to develop treatments that target disease-causing bacteria without harming those beneficial to us (as often occurs with traditional antibiotics). In dentistry, such possibilities could help stop the spread of tooth decay, gum disease or similar bacterial infections, while fostering a healthier oral environment that prevents disease and protects health.
Does the word “vitamin” make you think of a capsule that comes from a bottle… one that you’re supposed to take every day to improve your health? If so, it shows the effectiveness of the marketing strategy used by the vitamin and dietary supplement industry — a business that’s valued at $25 billion annually. The other definition, of course, is a substance that your body requires (in small amounts) to control normal metabolic functions and sustain life. It’s often assumed that taking vitamins in pill form can help you be healthier. But is that assertion really backed up by evidence?
It’s true that if your body is severely lacking in any of the 13 vitamins, you could be at risk for developing a disease related to vitamin deficiency: scurvy or pellagra, for example. Moreover, several vitamins (notably vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A) are also antioxidants; these are molecules that can protect our cells (and our genetic material) from damage caused by toxins in the environment and metabolic processes within our bodies.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins A and C, and vitamin E is found in vegetable oils. That’s one of the reasons why nutritionists and health-care providers stress the importance of a well-balanced diet, including plenty of plant-based foods. Many studies have shown that people who eat lots of vegetables and fruits have lower incidences of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health problems.
You can also buy substances marketed as antioxidants and nutritional supplements in pill form. But contrary to what you might expect, in that form they don’t seem to have the same protective effect on the body. Scientists still aren’t sure why this is so, but it may have to do with the presence of many other biologically active compounds in vegetables and fruits. In fact, there is solid evidence that taking too many vitamins or supplements can be dangerous to your health.
We’re certainly not saying it’s of no use to take vitamins or nutritional supplements — especially if a deficiency is known to exist. If an individual isn’t getting enough vitamin D because they avoid exposure to sunlight, for example, then it makes sense to take a supplemental dose. But we need to remember that a supplement in pill form isn’t a substitute for a balanced diet — and taking unneeded supplements, or excessive doses, can lead to problems. Like it or not, there are few shortcuts on the road to good health. For more information about vitamins and supplements, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
What and how you eat and drink has a significant impact on the health of your teeth and gums. Therefore, an effective oral hygiene regime must take your diet into account.
Acid is your teeth's enemy; it can erode their protective enamel coating (a process called demineralization). Certain foods and beverages (such as citrus drinks and coffee) contain it, and it's produced by bacteria in your mouth that feed on dietary sugar and release acid as a byproduct (a process called fermentation). Your allies are foods and beverages that neutralize acids, provide minerals and vitamins to repair tooth enamel, and stimulate saliva.
Sugar & Decay
Sugars, the leading promoter of dental decay, exist in many forms in our diet. Some occur naturally, while others — referred to as “free sugars” — are added by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. The latter are most often linked with decay. Soft drinks are the primary source of dietary free-sugars in the U.S.
Sugars in fruit, vegetables, milk and unprocessed, starch-rich foods such as rice, potatoes and whole grains, do not appear to be harmful to teeth. Note, however, that dried fruits contain a highly concentrated sugar level and can stick to tooth surfaces. The sugar substitutes xylitol and sorbitol appear not to promote decay. In fact, there's evidence that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum three to five times daily for at least five minutes (after meals) stimulates saliva flow, which helps protect against decay.
Acids & Erosion
In addition to eroding tooth enamel, acidic foods and beverages create an environment where it's easier for decay-promoting bacteria to flourish. Saliva can reduce acidity but it must have time to work, at least 30–60 minutes. That's why behaviors that maintain acid levels, such as sipping coffee throughout the day, can be harmful.
Saliva is a front-line defense against erosion and decay. It helps remove food particles and contains minerals that help neutralize acid and promote remineralization of the tooth surface. Foods that stimulate saliva and/or contribute essential minerals include:
- Cheese — stimulates saliva and is rich in calcium, contributing to the re-calcification of teeth and protecting against the loss of calcium,
- Cow's milk — contains decay-counteracting calcium, phosphorous and casein,
- Plant foods — are fibrous and require chewing, which mechanically stimulates saliva,
- Water — keeps you hydrated, which is important for saliva production and preventing dry mouth (a condition that promotes acid-producing bacteria), and helps wash away food particles; fluorinated water bestows the protective properties of fluoride (a compound that makes tooth enamel more resistant to acid erosion and promotes re-calcification).
As you can see, brushing and flossing effectively is just part of the oral hygiene equation.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral hygiene, 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Electric-powered toothbrushes have been in use for decades, and continue to enjoy wide popularity. But since their inception in the 1950s, there’s been a continuous debate not only about the best choice among powered toothbrushes, but whether powered toothbrushes are as effective in removing plaque as manual toothbrushes.
These debates are fueled by a large body of research over many years on powered toothbrushes. For instance, an independent research firm known as the Cochrane Collaboration has evaluated over 300 hundred studies of powered toothbrushes (over a thirty-year span) using international standards to analyze the data.
Surprisingly, they found only one type of powered toothbrush (using a rotation-oscillation action) that statistically outperformed manual toothbrushes in the reduction of plaque and gingivitis. Although from a statistical point of view the difference was significant, in practical terms it was only a modest increase in efficiency.
In all actuality, the most important aspect about toothbrushes in effective oral hygiene isn’t the brush, but how it’s used — or as we might say, “it’s not the brush so much as the hand that holds it.” The fact remains, after first flossing, a manual toothbrush can be quite effective in removing plaque if you brush once or twice a day with a soft-bristle brush using a gentle brushing motion.
Although a powered toothbrush does much of the work for you, it still requires training to be effective, just as with a manual toothbrush. We would encourage you, then, to bring your toothbrush, powered or manual, on your next cleaning visit: we would be happy to demonstrate proper technique and give you some useful tips on making your brushing experience more effective.
Remember too: brushing your teeth and flossing isn’t the whole of your oral hygiene. Although a critical part, brushing and flossing should also be accompanied with semi-annual professional cleanings to ensure the removal of as much disease-causing plaque as possible.
If you would like more information on types of toothbrushes, 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 “Manual vs. Powered Toothbrushes.”
Your toothbrush serves the invaluable purpose of minimizing bacterial buildup (plaque) that can irritate gums and lead to periodontal disease, infection of the bone and tissues supporting your teeth. Brushing also helps dislodge food particles that certain oral bacteria would otherwise feed on, producing acids in the process that can eat through protective tooth enamel and the vulnerable dentin below. Given its importance to your oral health, you can maximize your toothbrush’s effectiveness by using and storing it properly, and replacing it (or the brush head if you have a powered model) regularly.
Using and Storing Your Brush
All that’s needed to dislodge plaque from oral surfaces is a relaxed grip and a gentle jiggling motion. Too much pressure can wear away tooth enamel, cause gum tissue to recede, and shorten the life of your brush head.
When you’re done using your brush:
- Thoroughly rinse it to remove any remaining tooth paste, food particles, etc.
- If you’re super-vigilant, you also can disinfect your brush by soaking it in mouthwash, brush-sanitizing rinse, or a half water/half hydrogen peroxide solution, or dipping it in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Air dry in an upright position and do not routinely cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. A dark, moist environment is more conducive to the growth of microorganisms.
Replacing and Recycling Your Toothbrush
Even with the best of care, toothbrush bristles become frayed and worn and their cleaning effectiveness diminishes after 3 or 4 months, according to the American Dental Association, though it could be sooner depending on factors unique to each patient. Besides checking the bristles regularly, a good way of keeping track is to write the date you start using your toothbrush in permanent pen on a big-enough spot on the handle (or doing it on masking tape applied to the base of a power brush).
Once your brush has passed its useful life for oral hygiene, you can still get plenty of mileage out of it. You’ll find plenty of ideas on the internet for cleaning grout between tiles and grime-filled spots around taps and toilet lid hinges; removing mud from boot treads; scrubbing off corrosion from around car battery terminals and more!
If you would like more information about oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Toothbrush Lifespan” and “Manual vs Powered Toothbrushes.”