You probably know practicing healthy dietary and lifestyle habits can help prevent tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But good habits could also lower your risk for a more dangerous type of disease — oral cancer.
There are several risk factors for oral cancer, including those you can't do much about like your genetic makeup or unknown elements in the environment. But there are factors you can influence with your actions.
You're probably familiar with the links between tobacco use (both smoked and smokeless) and oral cancer. But excessive alcohol use could also increase your risk, as can risky sexual behavior that could expose you to human papilloma virus (HPV) 16.
And what you eat — or don't eat — could also influence your cancer risk. Research over the last half century has uncovered a link between diet and cancer. Cancer development seems to begin with damage to DNA, the genetic material that “tells” each of our cells what it is and what it does in the body. Substances called carcinogens found in the environment — including the foods we eat — can damage our DNA and open the door for cancer to development.
But some foods also contain elements that protect our DNA from carcinogenic damage. Some of these are known as antioxidants, which protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals. You'll find antioxidants, as well as other protective substances like fiber, vitamins and lycopene in plant-based foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
Eating a plant-based diet also means you'll eat fewer foods that contribute to the rise of free radicals like saturated fat, animal protein and nitrates (a chemical that occurs in some food processing). A healthy diet, along with quitting tobacco use and moderating alcohol consumption, will help not only preventing decay or gum disease, it will also drastically lower your risk for oral cancer.
If you would like more information on oral cancer prevention, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Although not high on the glamour scale, saliva is nonetheless an important ingredient in a healthy life. This "multi-tasker" fluid helps break down your food for better digestion and supplies antibodies to thwart threatening microorganisms coming in through the mouth.
But perhaps its most important role is to neutralize mouth acid that can erode tooth enamel. Without this buffering action, you're at much greater risk for tooth decay and possible tooth loss.
That's why chronic dry mouth is much more than just an unpleasant feeling. If you're not producing enough saliva, your risk for developing tooth decay (and periodontal disease too) skyrocket.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid dry mouth and promote healthier saliva flow.
Watch what goes in your mouth. Some foods, beverages and other substances can interfere with saliva production. Caffeine in coffee, sodas and other beverages can cause your body to lose water needed to produce adequate saliva. So can alcohol, which can also further irritate dry tissues. And any type of tobacco use can decrease saliva production and heighten the dry mouth effect, another good reason to kick the habit.
Drink more water. Water is the main ingredient in saliva, so keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day helps ensure a ready supply. Drinking water also helps dilute acid concentrations and washes away leftover food particles that could become a food source for oral bacteria, the main source for mouth acid.
Ask questions about your medications. Many medications can trigger chronic dry mouth including drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, depression or allergies. If you have chronic dry mouth, talk with your physician about the medications you're taking and ask if there are any alternatives that have less of an effect. If not, drink more water, especially while taking oral medication.
You can also reduce dry mouth symptoms by using a humidifier while you sleep or using products that boost saliva production. And be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to further reduce your risk of dental disease. Managing dry mouth won't just make your mouth feel better—it will help your teeth and gums stay healthier too.
April is National Stress Awareness Month. But what does stress have to do with dentistry? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if you have a Type A personality or are under a lot of stress, you are more likely to suffer from a condition called bruxism, which means you habitually grind or gnash your teeth. One in ten adults grind their teeth, and the rate is much higher in stressful professions. In fact, the bruxism rate is seven times higher among police officers!
Many people grind their teeth in their sleep without realizing it, so how would you know if you are a "sleep bruxer"? If your spouse frequently elbows you in the ribs because of the grinding sounds you make, that could be your first clue. Unfortunately, dental damage is another common sign. Some people find out they are nighttime teeth grinders only when they are examined by a dentist since bruxing often leads to wear patterns on the teeth that only happen because of this behavior. Other complications can also develop: The condition can interfere with sleep, result in headaches and cause soreness in the face, neck or jaw. Chronic or severe nighttime teeth grinding can damage dental work, such as veneers, bridgework, crowns and fillings, and can result in teeth that are worn down, chipped, fractured or loose.
The most common treatment is a custom-made night guard made of high-impact plastic that allows you to sleep while preventing your upper and lower teeth from coming into contact. Although a night guard will protect your teeth and dental work, it won't stop the grinding behavior. Therefore, finding and treating the cause should be a priority.
The Bruxism Association estimates that 70 percent of teeth grinding behavior is related to stress. If you are a bruxer, you can try muscle relaxation exercises, stretching and breathing exercises, stress reduction techniques and, where feasible, any lifestyle changes that can allow you to reduce the number of stressors in your life. Prescription muscle relaxants may also help. In addition, teeth grinding may be related to sleep apnea. This possibility should be investigated since sleep apnea can have some serious health consequences—we offer effective treatments for this condition as well.
We can spot signs of bruxism, so it's important to come in for regular dental checkups. We look for early indications of dental damage and can help you protect your smile. If you have questions about teeth grinding or would like to discuss possible symptoms, please contact our office or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
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.”
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
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