Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
Facing extensive dental treatment can be stressful—and even more so when you realize what it will cost. It’s a hard fact of life, but some dental work can be expensive.
The good news, though, is that it’s possible to keep your costs at a manageable level, even with limited finances. And your best first step is to become proactive with dental care now, before problems appear or get worse.
There are good reasons for making room in your budget for regular dental cleanings and checkups: for one, dental cleanings coupled with your own daily hygiene help keep bacterial plaque, the main cause of dental disease, from causing gum disease or damage to the tooth surfaces. And seeing us regularly makes it more likely we’ll detect a problem before it inflicts too much harm.
Regular visits are also important for establishing a relationship with us. As we become more familiar with you and your own individual risk factors for dental problems, we can then develop a treatment strategy to minimize those risks or take action to decrease their impact.
The latter point has direct bearing on the financial side of your care. It’s tempting to postpone a recommended treatment for a mild to moderate issue because of the expense. But receiving treatment now could save you from major expense later.
Perhaps, though, you’re actually facing that major expense now and the full weight of what it will cost is bearing down. Even in this situation, you may actually find there are less expensive ways to deal with the problem, at least temporarily until you can afford a more permanent solution.
For example, if you’ve lost a tooth or have had it extracted, you may be able to opt for a partial denture or similar less costly restoration—at least for the time being. Eventually, when you’re prepared financially, you can replace it with a dental implant or another permanent restoration. In the meantime, you’re able to regain a reasonable level of dental health.
The key is to invest in your teeth and gums now whatever their state of health. The efforts you make today could save you from a greater health and financial burden tomorrow.
Fluoride is a critical weapon in the war against tooth decay. But this natural chemical proven to strengthen tooth enamel has also aroused suspicion over the years that it might cause health problems.
These suspicions have led to rigorous testing of fluoride's safety. And the verdict from decades of research? We've found only one verifiable side effect, a condition called enamel fluorosis. Caused by too much fluoride present in the body, enamel fluorosis produces white streaks and patches on teeth, and can develop into darker staining and pitting in extreme cases. But other than having an unattractive appearance, the teeth remain sound and healthy.
Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of fluorosis by limiting fluoride exposure to within recommended limits. Fluoride can show up in processed foods and other substances, but the two sources you should focus on most are oral hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water.
Dentists highly recommend using toothpaste with fluoride to fight tooth decay. But be careful how much your family uses, especially younger members. An infant only needs a slight smear of toothpaste on their brush for effective hygiene. At around age 2, you can increase the amount to about the size of a vegetable pea.
As to drinking water, most utilities add fluoride to their supply. If yours does, you can find out how much they add by calling them or visiting cdc.gov ("My Water's Fluoride"), where you can also learn more about recommended levels of fluoridation. If you think it's excessive, you can switch to water labeled "de-ionized," "purified," "demineralized," or "distilled," which contain little to no added fluoride.
Even if your fluoridated water is within recommended levels, you may wish to take extra precautions for infants nursing with formula. If possible, use "ready-to-feed" formula, which usually contains very low amounts of fluoride if any. If you're using the powdered form, use only water with the aforementioned labeling for mixing.
Before making any drastic changes that might affect your family's fluoride intake, consult with your dentist first. And be sure you're keeping up regular dental visits—your dentist may be able to detect any early signs of fluorosis before it becomes a bigger problem.
If you would like more information on maintaining the proper fluoride balance with your family, 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Wearing braces isn't just for teenagers — straightening teeth can be just as viable a need when you're an adult. For example, it may be necessary to first move teeth away from an empty tooth socket before you obtain a dental implant or other restoration.
But braces could have complications, especially if you have periodontal (gum) disease. These infections caused by plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, inflame and weaken gum tissues and erode supporting bone. It can be treated and brought under control — but keeping it under control requires daily brushing and flossing, along with frequent office cleanings and checkups.
Braces can make this more difficult: it's harder to brush and floss effectively through the hardware of brackets and wires, which can give plaque a chance to build up. Patients susceptible to gum disease are more likely to have re-infections while wearing braces. The hardware can also cause enamel to come in prolonged contact with acid, which can dissolve its mineral content and open the door to tooth decay.
Clear aligners are an alternative to braces that can accomplish tooth movement while minimizing infection flare-ups for people with gum disease. Aligners are a series of customized clear plastic trays worn over the teeth, with each succeeding tray incrementally moving the teeth further than the preceding one. After wearing one tray for a specified time period, you then switch to the next tray. The teeth gradually move to the desired new position over the course of the aligner series.
This option is especially advantageous for gum disease patients because the trays can be removed temporarily for brushing and flossing. There are also other benefits: we can hide a missing tooth space with a temporary false tooth attached to the aligner; and, they're nearly invisible so it won't be obvious to others you're undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Not all orthodontic situations benefit from this alternative, while some cases may call for a combination approach between aligners and braces. But in the right setting, clear aligners are a good choice for not only obtaining better teeth position, but also helping you avoid a new encounter with dental disease.
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.