The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “one of the ten most important public health measures of the 20th Century.” A new vaccine? A cure for a major disease? No—the CDC is referring to the addition of fluoride to drinking water to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is a chemical compound found in foods, soil and water. Its presence in the latter, in fact, was key to the discovery of its dental benefits in the early 20th Century. A dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose natural water sources were abundant with fluoride, noticed his patients' teeth had unusual staining but no tooth decay. Curious, he did some detective work and found fluoride in drinking water to be the common denominator.
By mid-century, fluoride was generally recognized as a cavity fighter. But it also had its critics (still lively today) that believed it might also cause serious health problems. Ongoing studies, however, found that fluoride in tiny amounts—as small as a grain of sand in a gallon of water—had an immense effect strengthening enamel with scant risk to health.
The only condition found caused by excess fluoride is a form of tooth staining called fluorosis (like those in Colorado Springs). Fluorosis doesn't harm the teeth and is at worst a cosmetic problem. And it can be avoided by regulating the amount of ingested fluoride to just enough for effectively preventing tooth decay.
As researchers have continued to learn more about fluoride, we've fine-tuned what that amount should be. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which sets standards for fluoride in drinking water, now recommends to utilities that fluoridate water to do so at a ratio of 0.7 mg of fluoride to 1 liter of water. This miniscule amount is even lower than previous recommendations.
The bottom line: Fluoride can have an immense impact on your family's dental health—and it doesn't take much. Excessive amounts, though, can lead to dental staining, so it's prudent to monitor your intake. That means speaking with your dentist about the prevalence of fluoride in your area (including your drinking water) and whether you need to take measures to reduce (or expand) your use of it.
If you would like more information on how best fluoride benefits your family'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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
Currently, one-third of Americans are either diabetic or have prediabetic symptoms. Caused by an imbalance in blood sugar levels, diabetes can complicate and increase the risk for other inflammatory conditions like heart disease and that includes another disease typified by inflammation: periodontal (gum) disease.
Each November, dentists join other healthcare professionals in commemorating American Diabetes Month. Besides making people aware of the widespread impact of diabetes, it's also a chance to highlight ways to manage the disease and promote better health for your body overall, including your gums.
If you have diabetes (or your doctor is concerned you may develop it), here's what you should know to keep it from harming your gum health.
Keep your diabetes under control. The adverse effects of diabetes on the body, including the gums, can be minimized through medication, good dietary habits and exercise. Because of its chronic nature, though, managing diabetes should become a permanent part of your daily life. But it's essential to keep symptoms under control to protect your gums from infection.
Practice daily oral hygiene. Gum disease can occur with anyone, not just those with diabetes. A few days without proper oral hygiene to remove bacterial plaque is all it takes to trigger an infection. So be sure you're brushing and flossing each day, as well as having routine professional dental cleanings at least every six months.
See us at the first sign of gum problems. If you notice your gums are reddened, swollen or bleeding after brushing and flossing, see us as soon as possible. If it is gum disease, the sooner we begin treatment, the less likely the infection will cause extensive damage—including tooth loss. It's also possible to have gum disease but not have any symptoms initially. That's why it's important to see us on a regular basis to check your gum health.
Keep your healthcare providers informed. Some studies seem to indicate that if you have both diabetes and gum disease, treating one condition could help improve symptoms with the other. Be sure both the dentist treating your gum disease and the physician managing your diabetes know about the other condition. It may be possible to adjust and coordinate treatment to get the most benefit for both.
Living with diabetes is a challenge, especially if you're also dealing with gum disease. Keeping your diabetes under control and caring for your teeth and gums can help make that challenge easier.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health while managing diabetes, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Diabetes and Periodontal Disease” and “Gum Disease and Systemic Health.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
Vitamins play a key role in your body’s health, including your teeth and gums. A vitamin-deficient diet is an invitation to all sorts of disease.
But what are vitamins? Although they differ individually in what effect they have on the body, they’re all organic compounds found in foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Each in a different way helps with bodily processes.
Vitamin C, for example, helps the body repair tissue. Without it, tissue breaks down easier, as British sailors discovered centuries ago on long sea voyages. Deprived of vitamin C in their diets they soon encountered health issues like bleeding gums. Eating limes — chock full of vitamin C—helped to clear up such problems (and also why they were called “limeys”).
Scientists have discovered thirteen vitamins, four of which—A, D, E and K—are soluble (dissolvable) in fat; the body stores these in the liver and fat tissue where they issue out into the body slowly. The rest—C and eight types of B vitamin—are soluble in water. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, these are used quickly and any remaining are excreted from the body.
When it comes to teeth, gums and the mouth, a rich assortment of vitamins helps maintain good oral health. For the teeth especially, vitamin D plays a critical role—it helps the body absorb the mineral calcium necessary for strong bones and teeth. You’ll find this vitamin plentiful in dairy products, but also fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
While vitamins occur naturally in foods, they can be manufactured in the form of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, the world of dietary supplements is a murky one, ungoverned by the restrictions and clinical trials that drugs undergo before they go to market. And, it’s big business: vitamin supplements are promoted as “insurance” for good health.
But while some people have conditions that may require a vitamin supplement, research has shown that most of us can effectively get our vitamins through a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. So, do your teeth and gums (as well as the rest of your body) a favor—eat your fruits and veggies. Along with daily brushing and flossing, getting enough vitamins can go a long way toward keeping your mouth healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on nutrition and 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
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