Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Your teeth face a hostile environment populated by disease-causing bacteria. But your teeth also have some “armor” against these microscopic foes: enamel. This hard outer tooth layer forms a barrier between harmful bacteria and the tooth’s more vulnerable layers of dentin and the inner pulp.
But although it’s tough stuff, enamel can erode when it comes into contact with high concentrations of mouth acid. Losing substantial amounts of enamel could leave your teeth exposed to disease.
So, here are 3 things you can do to help protect your enamel so it can keep on protecting you.
Careful on the brushing. Brushing removes dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. But be careful not to brush too often, too hard and too quickly after eating. Brushing more than twice a day can cause gum recession and enamel wear; likewise, brushing too aggressively. You should also wait at least 30 minutes after eating to brush to give your saliva sufficient time to neutralize any acid. You could lose tiny bits of softened enamel brushing too soon.
Cut back on acidic foods and beverages. Spicy foods, sodas and, yes, sports and energy drinks all contain high amounts of acid that can increase your mouth’s acidity. It’s a good idea, then, to reduce acidic foods and beverages in your diet. Instead, eat less spicy foods and drink primarily water or milk. Also, look for foods and beverages with calcium, which helps increase your enamel’s ability to remineralize after acid contact.
Don’t eat right before bedtime. There are a lot of reasons not to eat just before you hit the hay—and one of them is for protecting your tooth enamel. Saliva normally neutralizes acid within a half hour to an hour after eating. While you’re sleeping, though, saliva production decreases significantly. This in turn slows its neutralizing effect, giving acid more contact time with enamel. So, end your eating a few hours before you turn in to avoid too much acid remaining on your teeth.
There's a “file” on you at your dentist's office: Every visit you've made—from regular cleanings to major dental work—has been recorded, noted and preserved for posterity.
If that gives you the shivers, it's actually not as “Big Brother” as it sounds—in fact, it's critical to your continuing care. A busy dental office depends on accurate records to ensure their individual patients' treatment strategies are up to date. They also contain key information about a patient's overall health, which might overlap into their dental care.
Your records are also important if you change providers, something that ultimately happens to most of us. Your dentist may retire or relocate (or you will); or, unfortunately, you may grow dissatisfied with your care and seek out a new dentist.
Whatever your reason for changing providers, your care will be ahead of the game if your new dentist has access to your past dental records and history. Otherwise, they're starting from square one learning about your individual condition and needs, which could have an impact on your care. For example, if your new dentist detects gum disease, having your past records can inform him or her about whether to be conservative or aggressive in the treatment approach to your case.
It's a good idea then to have your records transferred to your new provider. By federal law you have a right to view them and receive a copy of them, although you may have to pay the dentist a fee to defray the costs of printing supplies and postage. And, you can't be denied access to your records even if you have an outstanding payment balance.
Rather than retrieve a copy yourself, you can ask your former provider to transfer your records to your new one. Since many records are now in digital form, it may be possible to do this electronically. And, if you're feeling awkward about asking yourself, you can sign a release with your new provider and let them handle getting your records for you.
Making sure there's a seamless transfer of your care from one provider to another will save time and treatment costs in the long-run. It will also ensure your continuing dental care doesn't miss a beat.
If you would like more information on managing 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
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 Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”