Your tooth enamel’s main nemesis is oral acid: normally produced by bacteria, foods or beverages, acid can dissolve enamel’s mineral content and cause erosion and decay. But acid might be a bigger problem for you if you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into the digestive tract. Normally, a ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from coming up into it. But if it weakens, this powerful acid can splash up into the esophagus and irritate its more delicate lining and result in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion.
The problem for teeth, though, is that GERD could cause stomach acid to potentially come up into the mouth. Because of its high acidic pH (2.0 or less), stomach acid can cause major erosion in tooth enamel, leaving them pitted, yellow and sensitive. If not caught and treated early, some of your teeth could be damaged to the point that they have a questionable prognosis.
There are some things you can do to minimize GERD’s effect on your dental health. First and foremost, see a doctor about managing your symptoms, which might include medication. Be sure you also inform your dentist that you have GERD and what medications you’re taking.
One way to lessen the effect of higher acid in the mouth is to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, taking a saliva booster or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also rinse with plain water or water mixed with baking soda (1/2 teaspoon to a cup of water), or chew an antacid tablet to help balance your mouth’s pH level.
And don’t forget to look out for your enamel. Be sure you’re practicing daily brushing and flossing and using fluoride hygiene products to strengthen it. Your dentist can also apply topical solutions or prescribe special rinses with higher concentrations of fluoride.
GERD can be an unpleasant experience that escalates into major problems. Don’t let it compromise your dental health.
You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.
That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.
What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.
This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.
But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.
In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
If you’re committed to providing your family nutritional, low-sugar snacks, you’re not only helping their physical well-being but their dental health too. If you have school-age children, though, you might be concerned about other snacks available to them while away from home.
To begin with, any potential problems at school with available snack items might not be as bad as you think. A few years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established new snacking guidelines for public schools. Known as the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, the new guidelines require schools to only allow snacks sold on school grounds that meet minimum nutritional standards. In addition, these guidelines promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
Still, the guideline standards are only a minimum, which could leave plenty of room for snacks that don’t meet your nutritional expectations. And school-offered snacks aren’t the only ones available on campus: there are also those brought by other students, which often get swapped around. The latter represent tempting opportunities for your child to consume snacks that aren’t the best for dental health.
But there are things you can do to minimize the lure of these poor snacking opportunities at school. First and foremost is to educate your child on why some snacks are better for them than others. In other words, make nutrition an instilled family value—and, of course, practice what you preach.
You can also send them with snacks you deem better for them than what’s available at school. Of course, you’ll be competing with a lot of exciting and enticing snacks, so try to inject a little “pizzazz” into yours like a dusting of cinnamon or a little parmesan cheese on popcorn. And use a little creativity (even getting your kids involved) to make snack choices fun, like using cookie-cutters to shape whole-grain bread and cheese into shapes.
And consider getting involved with other parents to encourage school administrators to adopt stricter snack standards over and above the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative. This not only may improve the nutritional content of available snacks, but also transform a “family value” into a community-wide appreciation for snacks that promote healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly snacking, 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 “Snacking at School.”
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
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