Posts for tag: oral health
Most people associate bacteria with disease and ill health. But the real story about the trillions of microscopic organisms now living in and on your body is a bit more complicated. With recent advances in genetic code research scientists are learning that many of these microorganisms you’re hosting are actually beneficial for you — including your teeth and gums.
Beginning at birth and throughout your lifetime you are continually developing a distinct microbiome — actual communities of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit your body. As your microbiome develops it helps train your immune system to distinguish between “good” bacteria that help with digestion and other bodily processes and “bad” bacteria that cause disease.Â And it continually adapts to changes in what we eat, the pets we acquire or the drugs we take.
But lifestyle choices like diet can also have a detrimental effect, causing harmful bacteria to become dominant. This seems to be the case with Streptococcus mutans, the bacterial strain most associated with tooth decay. Scientists have analyzed biofilm (plaque deposits on teeth) from the pre-industrial era before 1900 and compared it with modern biofilm samples. They’ve found Streptococcus mutans levels to be much higher in modern biofilm, which they directly attribute to the modern Western diet.
As we gain a better understanding of these findings and of the role of bacteria in our lives, it could change many health recommendations not only about diet but about medications too. In the fight against disease, for example, we’ve used antibiotics to eradicate infection-causing microorganisms, but with a broad destructive ability that can also kill many beneficial strains of bacteria. It’s hoped as our knowledge grows we’ll be able to create newer drugs that more narrowly target harmful microorganisms while not affecting beneficial ones.
There’s a new appreciation emerging for bacteria’s role in our lives. As a result efforts to rebalance a person’s microbiome when they become sick may eventually become a critical element in healthcare treatment strategies. The benefits of this strategy for health, including for our teeth and gums, could be quite impressive.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Some things in life look worse than they really are. A condition known as “geographic tongue” is a good example: while it may look serious, it’s not a cause for real concern.
If you’ve never heard of geographic tongue it’s because it’s not a common ailment: it only affects one to three percent of the population. The name comes from patches of redness on the top surface of the tongue surrounded by grayish white borders, which gives the red patches a look similar to land masses on a map.
It’s known formally as “benign migratory glossitis,” which tells us more about the condition: “benign” means the patches aren’t cancerous; “migratory” indicates the patches tend to move and take different shapes along the surface of the tongue. In fact, it’s possible for them to appear, disappear, and then reappear over the course of a few days.
The exact causes of geographic tongue haven’t been fully substantiated. Researchers believe emotional stress, psychological problems or hormonal disturbances (especially women during pregnancy or ovulation) could be triggers for its occurrence. Certain dietary deficiencies like zinc or vitamin B, or acidic foods are also believed to be factors.
While geographic tongue isn’t painful, it can leave your tongue feeling more sensitive with a mild burning or stinging sensation. If you’re prone to having geographic tongue, there are some things you can do to reduce the irritation. Try to avoid eating acidic or spicy foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits or mint, as well as astringent substances like alcohol or certain mouthwashes. We may also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments to help ease any discomfort.
The good news, though, is that this harmless condition is more irritating than anything else. With a little care and forethought you won’t even know you have it.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue.”
“The Freshman 15” is a popular way of referring to the phenomenon of new college students gaining weight during their freshman year (although the average is less than fifteen pounds). According to research, college students gain weight mainly due to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
If you're experiencing this as a college student, you should also know poor diet and lifestyle choices harm your teeth and gums as well. If you don't want to encounter major dental problems, then you need to make some changes beginning with the same cause for your weight gain: what you eat and drink.
Like the rest of your body, your teeth and gums have the best chance for being healthy when you're eating a balanced, nutritional diet low in added sugar. And it's not just mealtime: constant snacking on sweets not only loads on the calories, it also feeds disease-causing oral bacteria. Sipping on acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks also increases the levels of acid that can erode tooth enamel.
Some lifestyle habits can also affect oral health. Using tobacco (smoked or smokeless) inhibits your mouth's natural healing properties and makes you more susceptible to dental disease. While it may be cool to get piercings in your lips, cheeks or tongue, the hardware can cause gum recession, chipped teeth and soft tissue cuts susceptible to infection. And unsafe sexual practices increase your risk for contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that's been linked with oral cancer, among other serious health problems.
Last but not least, how you regularly care for your teeth and gums can make the biggest difference of all. You should brush and floss your teeth ideally twice a day to clean away plaque, a thin film of disease-causing bacteria and food particles. And twice-a-year dental cleanings and checkups will round out your prevention efforts against tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Making your own choices is a rite of passage into adulthood. Making good choices for your teeth and gums will help ensure they remain healthy for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining dental health during the college years, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy mouth, 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 “Saliva.”
Laying out goals for the New Year is a great way to inspire yourself to make positive changes that can improve your health. For example, many habits—both good and bad—affect the health of your teeth and gums. Here’s a list of risky habits to kick, and mouth-healthy habits to adopt:
Habits That Risk Oral Health
Smoking. As if oral cancer weren’t enough to worry about, smoking also promotes gum disease and tooth loss. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smokers have double the risk of gum disease compared to nonsmokers. And according to the Academy of General Dentistry, smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as nonsmokers. For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov.
Snacking. Nibbling all day can create the perfect conditions for tooth decay—especially if your snacks contain sugar and other carbohydrates. Sticky snacks like cookies, crackers, chips and candy bars that cling to teeth tend to remain in the mouth and attract decay-causing oral bacteria. The acid these bacteria produce can penetrate the enamel of your teeth, causing cavities.
Soft Drinks. Speaking of tooth-eroding acid, soft drinks have plenty of it. And this includes both regular and diet varieties of soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. The healthiest drink for your teeth is water!
Brushing. You probably brush your teeth every day already, but are you doing it correctly? To get the most benefit from this healthy habit, brush twice each day for a full two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with toothpaste that contains fluoride, and don’t scrub too harshly!
Flossing. Yes, it’s worth the effort! If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about 40% of your tooth surfaces. A toothbrush just can’t reach in between teeth, where decay-causing dental plaque can hide. If you find dental floss difficult to work with, try using disposable floss holders.
Regular Dental Checkups. Keep up a regular schedule of professional teeth cleanings and exams! This allows us to remove any hardened dental plaque (tartar) that has built up on your teeth, screen you for oral cancer, and treat minor dental problems before they become major ones. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to review your at-home oral hygiene.
If you have any questions about how to improve your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home” and “10 Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.”