One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
All-natural fruit juice with no additives: now what could be wrong with that? Nothing—unless your child is over-indulging. Too much of even natural fruit juice could increase their risk of tooth decay.
To understand why, we first need to look at the real culprit in tooth decay: mouth acid produced by oral bacteria as a byproduct of their digestion of sugar. Acid at high levels softens and erodes tooth enamel, which causes tooth decay. Acid levels can rise as populations of bacteria increase often fueled by sugar, one of bacteria's primary food sources.
And not just the added sugar found in soft drinks, snacks or candies—even fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, can feed bacteria. To lower the risk of tooth decay, dentists recommend limiting the daily amount of sugar a child consumes, including natural fruit juices without added sugar.
That doesn't mean you should nix natural fruit juices altogether—they remain a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. But you'll need to keep your child's juice consumption within moderation.
As a guide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued consumption recommendations for children regarding all-natural fruit juice. The academy recommends the following daily juice amounts by age:
- 7-18: 8 ounces (1 cup) or less;
- 4-6: 6 ounces or less;
- 1-3: 4 ounces or less;
- Under 1: No juice at all.
You can further reduce your child's decay risk by limiting their juice intake to mealtimes, a good practice with any sweetened beverage. Sipping through the day on juice or other sweetened beverages can cause some sugar to stay in the mouth over long periods. This can interfere with the natural ability of saliva to neutralize any acid buildup.
If you're wondering what children could drink instead of juice, low-fat or non-fat milk is an acceptable choice. But the most tooth-friendly liquid to drink is plain water. Drinking nature's hydrator is not only better for their overall health, by reducing the risk of tooth decay, it's also better for their teeth.
If you would like more information on how sugar can affect your child's 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 “Squeeze Out the Juice.”
Eaten in a fast food restaurant lately? If so, maybe you’ve noticed some changes in the big, colorful signs behind the counters. Many have begun promoting a few “healthier” selections (like salads and grilled items) and giving a more extensive listing of nutritional information. But there’s one thing you might not have noticed on those displays: a listing for soda among the beverage choices in the kiddie meal packages. That’s because they are no longer there.
Recently, Burger King quietly removed sugary fountain drinks from the in-store and online menu boards that show what you get with kids’ meals. They were following the lead of McDonalds and Wendy’s, both of which made similar moves in prior months. You can still get a soda with your kiddie burger if you specifically ask for one, but we’re hoping you won’t; here’s why.
For one thing, youth obesity has nearly tripled in the past three decades. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted, it’s now an epidemic affecting more than one in six children and adolescents. Many of the extra calories kids get are blamed on sugary drinks: According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, children’s daily calorie intake from these beverages rose by 60 percent in recent years. Obesity makes kids more likely to get many diseases, and can lead to problems in psychological and social adjustment.
But that’s not all. As dentists, we’re concerned about the potential for soda to cause tooth decay, which is still the number one chronic disease in children around the world. The association between sugary drinks and cavities is clear. So is the fact that tooth decay causes pain, countless hours of missed school and work, and expense that’s largely unnecessary, because it’s a disease that is almost 100 percent preventable.
While the new signage at fast food restaurants won’t make soda disappear, it does tend to make it less of an automatic choice. Anything that discourages children from routinely consuming soda is bound to help — and let’s point out that the same thing goes for other sweet and acidic beverages including so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks. It’s best to try and eliminate these from your child’s diet; but if you do allow them, at least limit them to mealtimes, and give your mouth a break from sweets between meals. That gives the saliva enough time to do its work as a natural buffer and acid-neutralizer.
What else can you do to help keep your child’s oral hygiene in tip-top shape? Be sure they brush their teeth twice and floss once every day, and bring them in for regular checkups and cleanings. But if you do suspect tooth decay, don’t delay treatment: Left alone, decay bacteria can infect the inner pulp of the tooth, resulting in severe pain, inflammation, and possibly the need for root canal treatment.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”
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