Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
Maybe you don’t like to be without teeth — ever. Or maybe you get a little forgetful sometimes. Whatever the reason, if you’re wearing your dentures to bed at night, we have one message for you: Please stop!
Sleeping in dentures can have serious health consequences. A recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that nursing home residents who wore their dentures to sleep were 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized or even die of pneumonia as those who did not sleep in dentures. But how can wearing dentures at night more than double your chances of getting a lung infection?
As the study noted, pneumonia-causing bacteria can readily be moved from the mouth to the lungs simply by breathing. And dentures that are not removed at night can become breeding grounds for all kind of bacteria and fungi (such as yeast). That’s what makes them potentially dangerous.
Another condition often seen in people who wear upper dentures continually is called denture stomatitis, which is characterized by a red, inflamed palate (roof of the mouth) that has been infected with yeast. The yeast microorganisms can also infect cracked corners of the mouth, a condition known as angular cheilitis. Moreover, it has also been shown that people who sleep in dentures have higher blood levels of a protein called interleukin 6, which indicates that the body is fighting an infection. Need we go on?
Wearing dentures is supposed to improve your quality of life, not reduce it. So promote good health by taking your dentures out at night, and sticking to a good daily oral hygiene routine:
- Remove and rinse your dentures after every meal.
- Brush your dentures at least once a day with a soft toothbrush or denture brush and dish soap, liquid antibacterial soap, or denture cleanser (but don’t use toothpaste — it is too abrasive).
- Store your dentures in water or a solution made for this purpose.
- Brush your gums and tongue every day with a soft toothbrush (not the same one you clean your dentures with).
- Rinse your dentures in clean water before you put them back in your mouth.
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
You’ve probably heard a lot of great things about dental implants as a replacement for missing teeth. But there’s one aspect about implants that may cause you hesitation about choosing them: the cost. If you have multiple teeth to be replaced, the expense of implants may seem even further beyond your means.
But before you decide against what’s widely considered the premier tooth replacement option, it would be beneficial for you to look at their cost from a long-term perspective. You may find implants are actually a cost-effective investment in both your oral health and your smile.
So, what sets the dental implant apart from other options? One of its most important attributes is its life-like appearance. Not only does the visible crown resemble the color, shape and texture of natural teeth, the implant’s placement can so precisely mimic the appearance of natural teeth emerging from the gums, it’s indistinguishable from the real thing.
They’re not just attractive, but also durable. This is due in large part to titanium, the most common metal used in implants, which has the unique quality of being osseophilic, or “bone-loving.” Bone cells naturally attract to titanium and over time will grow and adhere to the implant in a process known as osseointegration. As a result, the implant’s attachment in the jaw becomes strong and secure.
This durability gives implants a greater longevity on average than most other replacement options. If you thus compare the total costs for an implant (including maintenance) over its projected life with the costs of other options like dentures or fixed bridges, you’ll find implants may actually cost less over time.
That may sound affordable for one or two missing teeth — but what about several? Replacing multiple teeth individually with implants can be quite high; but implants are also versatile — just a few strategically placed implants can support a fixed bridge or overdenture. This “hybrid” solution combines the affordability of these other options with the stability of implants.
Before weighing your options, you should first undergo a complete dental examination to see if you’re a candidate for implants. From there we can help you decide whether implants are the right investment for your health and your smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 Implants 101.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
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