Posts for: April, 2014
Sports drinks have grown in popularity since University of Florida football trainers developed Gatorade® in the 1960s. They're widely viewed as a convenient fluid and nutrient replacement after strenuous workouts. Recently, another beverage has become wildly popular — the energy drink, whose high caffeine promises heightened concentration and physical ability.
While energy drinks have raised health concerns, sports drinks are widely regarded as safe. Both kinds of drinks, however, may be a cause for concern when it comes to your dental health.
While both are substantively different, they do have one thing in common — both beverages contain high levels of citric and other acids to improve taste and shelf life. This high acidity can have a detrimental effect on tooth enamel.
When the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking (4 or lower on the pH scale), the tooth's outer protective enamel begins to erode, a process known as demineralization. Saliva with its neutral pH of 7 can neutralize this over-acidity in about thirty minutes to an hour after eating and the enamel will actually begin to remineralize. But when there's an overabundance of acid, as with these beverages, saliva's neutralizing ability becomes inhibited. The mouth remains too acidic for a longer period, resulting in greater erosion of the enamel.
Generally speaking, we don't recommend energy drinks at all. If, however, you occasionally take in a sports drink, add the following precautions, if possible: combine the drink with a mealtime and rinse your mouth with pH-neutral water to wash away residual acid from the sports drink; and wait an hour before brushing your teeth — since some demineralization occurs before saliva neutralizes the acid, you could brush away some of the softened enamel before it can remineralize.
Finally, consider this: pure, clean water is still the best hydrator in the world. Replenishing your fluids with it after exercise might also be the better choice for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports and energy drinks on oral health, 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 “Think Before you Drink.”
Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), better known as aspirin, is an effective pain reliever and fever reducer. More recently, its anti-inflammatory properties have become part of the management of cardiovascular disease. But while regular use may benefit your general health, it could complicate your dental care.
Aspirin helps reduce inflammatory pain or fever by blocking the body’s formation of prostaglandins, chemicals that contribute to inflammation after trauma or injury. It also prevents blood platelets from sticking and clumping together. While this can prolong normal bleeding and bruising, it also helps the blood move freely through narrowed or damaged blood vessels, which reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke in at-risk cardiovascular patients. Due to side effects from prolonged aspirin use like kidney damage, stomach bleeding, or ulceration, physicians normally prescribe a low aspirin dosage (81 milligrams) to minimize these effects.
Because of its effect on bleeding and clotting, it’s important that every member of your healthcare team — including your dentist — knows how much and how often you take aspirin. The change it causes in your body’s clotting mechanism may also affect how dental procedures are carried out; by knowing you take aspirin regularly we can take extra precautions to ensure your safety.
In fact, if you’ve been prescribed aspirin for a heart condition, you may be tempted to stop taking it before a dental procedure out of fear of profuse bleeding. This is highly unadvisable — the sudden discontinuation could increase your risk of heart attack, stroke or even death. You should only discontinue aspirin treatment at the direction of your prescribing physician.
Another aspirin-related effect may involve your gums and other soft tissues. You may notice gum tissue bleeding after brushing or flossing; while this is normally a sign of periodontal gum disease, it could also be the result of your aspirin therapy. The only way to know for sure is to schedule a visit with us to examine your gums.
When it comes to aspirin or other blood-related therapies, the key is to communicate your health status with us, including all medications you are taking. With that knowledge we can provide you with the most informed and safest dental care we can.
If you would like more information on the effects of aspirin on your 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 “Aspirin: Friend or Foe?”
Refined table sugar (sucrose) has been in the health spotlight for some time now. While its effects on nutrition and general health are just now gaining attention, its effect on dental health, particularly as a food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay, has been known for decades.
In recent years, though, a different kind of natural sugar known as xylitol has come into popularity. Mutans Streptococci, the main bacteria responsible for tooth decay, is unable to break down and consume this alcohol-based sugar as it can with sucrose. What’s more, there’s evidence that xylitol can actually “starve” the offending bacteria and reduce its levels in the mouth. Xylitol also helps to reduce the level of acid in saliva and supports this vital fluid in its role of balancing the mouth’s pH level. By helping maintain a more pH neutral environment, xylitol can help prevent decay from even starting and promote the production of bacteria that doesn’t produce acid.
One of the most prevalent ways to include xylitol in your diet is through chewing gum. Researchers have found xylitol chewing gum can significantly reduce the risk of tooth decay, especially by inhibiting the decay process. Its reaction with saliva also contributes to the process of hardening the mineral content of enamel, a further inhibition to tooth decay.
Depending on your risk factors for dental disease, we might direct you to chew two pieces of xylitol gum for five minutes after meals and snacks, up to four times a day. Our target dose is about one to two teaspoons spread out during the day. If chewing gum is problematic or undesirable, it’s also possible to receive the recommended dosage of xylitol through hard candy, mints and oral products like toothpaste, mouthwash or sprays that contain the sugar.
Depending on your risk factors, a daily dosage of xylitol in chewing gum and other products can change the environment in your mouth for the better. A few minutes of gum chewing after meals and snacks might provide you the winning edge in the battle against tooth decay.
If you would like more information on the benefits and uses of xylitol, 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 “Xylitol in Chewing Gum.”
While you may most associate professional dental cleanings with that “squeaky” clean feeling you have afterward, there is a much higher goal. What is also referred to as “non-surgical periodontal therapy,” these cleanings seek to remove bacterial plaque and tartar (hard deposits) not only from the visible portions of the tooth but also the root surfaces (scaling), so as to reduce the risk and occurrence of periodontal gum disease.
For generations, this was primarily achieved by dental hygienists using hand-held instruments specially designed to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces. Since the 1950s, though, a new technology known as ultrasonic or power scaling has become more prevalent in use. Initially only used in the outer most portions of the gum tissue (the supra-gingival area) power scaling is increasingly employed to clean the sub-gingival area, much closer to the tooth roots. As this technology has developed, it’s been shown to be just as effective, if not superior in some cases, to manual scaling for removing plaque and tartar.
Ultrasonic or power scalers work by emitting high vibration energy that crushes and removes plaque and calculus (tartar). The resulting shockwaves also tend to disrupt bacterial cell function. The hygienist uses water to flush away the dislodged calculus. They have a number of advantages over manual scaling: they’re quite effective on deep gum pockets, especially when specially designed tips are used; they require less time than manual scaling; and when used correctly power scalers are gentler to tooth structures.
However, they do have a few drawbacks. Because they produce an aerosol effect, power scalers can project contaminants from the patient’s mouth into the atmosphere, requiring special protective equipment for the hygienist. They’re not recommended for patients with hypersensitive teeth, especially regarding temperature change, or for teeth with areas of de-mineralization (the loss of mineral content in the enamel). Care should be taken when they’re used with implants or porcelain or composite crowns — specially designed tips are necessary to avoid scratching the restoration. They may also have an effect on cardiac pacemakers.
In the end, the best approach is a combination of both power and manual scaling techniques. Depending on your individual needs, ultrasonic scaling can do an effective job in removing plaque and tartar and help you avoid gum disease.
If you would like more information on ultrasonic cleaning techniques, 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 Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
While genetics certainly plays a role in a person's susceptibility to various forms of cancer (including oral cancer), there are lifestyle factors that also play a role.
In the case of developing oral cancer, there are a number of prominent lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk: protect yourself from too much sun exposure; avoid the use of any type of tobacco (smoke and smokeless); limit your intake of alcoholic beverages to a moderate level; abstain from risky sexual behavior; and eat a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other whole foods.
That last lifestyle change not only reduces your level of negative exposure from the environment, it may also provide a positive effect as well. For example, normal cellular function produces unstable molecules known as “free radicals” that can damage the DNA structure within the cell; this could be a precursor to the development of cancer. There are natural substances, however, that can help protect cells against the damage caused by free radicals. These are known as “antioxidants” and they are abundant in many plant-based foods. You, of course, may know them by other names: vitamins, carotenoids (found in red and orange fruits and vegetables) or fiber, to name a few.
A well-balanced diet can provide these and other kinds of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, it's important that you eat the source of these nutrients — fresh plant-based foods. Studies have shown that dietary supplements can't match the effectiveness of actually eating fruit and vegetables.
Besides lowering your cancer risk, a plant-based, whole food diet will also result in better oral health. Diets heavy in processed foods with high amounts of sugar or other bacteria-friendly substances inhibit good oral health.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in reducing your risk to cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”