If you think brushing and flossing and regular dental visits are all you need to do to avoid dental disease, you're missing a key component in your prevention plan. What you eat could also help close the door on tooth decay or gum disease—or open it even wider if you're eating nutritionally deficient foods.
Let's look first at the latter scenario. Like us, the oral bacteria most responsible for dental disease also have to eat to survive and thrive. And, often like us, they have a favorite food—provide them ample amounts of that and they'll continue to multiply and raise your risk of disease.
That favorite bacterial food is simple carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar. A diet heavy in added sugar can increase oral bacteria, which in turn elevates your chances of a gum infection. Bacteria's main by-product, acid, may also increase. That's bad news for your teeth. At high levels, acid contact softens and erodes enamel, the precursor to tooth decay.
Obviously, then, a "tooth-friendly" diet should be low on sugar and other simple carbohydrates like refined breads, pasta or pastries. Soda, energy and sports drinks high in both sugar and acid should also be avoided or restricted to mealtimes. You should also be careful with how much fruit you're eating as their natural sugars can also feed bacteria.
A well-rounded diet, however, isn't simply about avoiding foods—you'll also want to include foods that help you build and maintain healthy teeth and gums. That includes:
- Fiber-rich plant foods: Their fiber reduces the effects of any carbohydrates and they're packed with nutrients;
- Whole grains: Whole grains don't promote decay as refined products do, and chewing them stimulates saliva flow for neutralizing acid;
- Fresh fruits: Eaten in moderation, fruits can provide a bevy of vitamins and minerals. But avoid dried fruits as their sugars are more concentrated;
- Dairy: Milk-based products, particularly cheese, contain nutrients like Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen teeth against dental disease.
For the most part, a diet that promotes overall well-being will also provide optimum benefits for your dental health. Along with your dental hygiene efforts, eating the right foods can help protect your teeth and gums from both tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on how better nutrition can boost your dental 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Losing teeth can make it more difficult to eat, not to mention the effect it can have on your smile. But that could be just the beginning of your problems. Missing teeth can contribute to extensive bone loss within your jaws and face. Here's why.
Bone is like any other living tissue—cells develop, function and eventually die, and new cells take their place. Forces generated during chewing stimulate this new growth, helping the jawbone maintain its normal volume and density.
But you lose this stimulus when you lose teeth. This can cause a slowdown in bone cell regrowth that can eventually diminish bone volume. And it can happen relatively quickly: you could lose a quarter or more of jawbone width around a missing tooth within a year.
As this loss continues, especially in cases of multiple missing teeth, the bone can eventually erode to its base level. This loss of dental function can make chewing more difficult, place more pressure on the remaining teeth and adversely affect facial appearance. It could also prevent an implant restoration to replace missing teeth.
Dentures and other forms of dental restoration can replace missing teeth, but not the chewing stimulus. Dentures in particular will accelerate bone loss, because they can irritate the bony gum ridges they rest upon.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can slow or even stop bone loss. Implants consist of a metal post, typically made of titanium, imbedded into the jawbone at the site of the missing tooth with a life-like crown attached. Titanium also has a strong affinity with bone so that bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's surface. This can produce enough growth to slow, stop or even reverse bone loss.
This effect may also work when implants are combined with other restorations, including dentures. These enhanced dentures no longer rest on the gums, but connect to implants. This adds support and takes the pressure off of the bony ridge, as well as contributes to better bone health.
If you've lost a tooth, it's important to either replace it promptly or have a bone graft installed to help forestall any bone loss in the interim. And when it's time to replace those missing teeth, dental implants could provide you not only a life-like solution, but a way to protect your bone health.
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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Today's dentures are more comfortable, more functional and more life-like than ever before—so much so that you might forget you have them in. Even so, dentures do have some downsides, and constant wear only amplifies those.
Our biggest concern is the effect dentures can have on bone health. Older bone is constantly replaced by newer bone, and the forces generated while chewing help stimulate this new growth. When a tooth is lost, however, this growth stimulus vanishes with it for that area of the bone. This may result in a slower growth rate, which can eventually lead to lost bone volume and density.
Dentures can't restore this lost stimulus, and may even make the situation worse. That's because traditional dentures rest on the bony ridges of the gums where the teeth once were. This can put pressure on the underlying bone, which can accelerate bone loss—and even more so when wearers leave their dentures in continuously.
Dentures can also contribute to disease if they're not regularly removed and cleaned. Besides oral yeast infections, bacteria-laden dentures can contribute to the production of a protein called interleukin-6 produced by the white blood cells. If a significant amount of this protein passes into the blood stream, it can increase body-wide inflammation and foster a systemic environment conducive to serious diseases like pneumonia.
If you wear dentures, then, it's good for your health (oral and otherwise) to incorporate two practices into your daily life. The first is to remove your dentures at night while you sleep. Not only will this help slow the progression of bone loss, it will also give your gums a chance to rest and recover from denture wear.
It's also important to regularly clean your dentures, either with an antibacterial soap or a special denture cleanser. During storage, keep your dentures in clean water or a peroxide-based solution designed for dentures. This will reduce the accumulation of bacteria on your dentures that can cause disease.
Dentures restore the dental function and smile appearance that a person loses with their teeth. Taking care of your dentures (and giving your mouth a daily rest from them) will help promote good oral and general health for you and a longer life for your dentures.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
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