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.
From the moment your child's first tooth appears, usually between six and nine months, you need to be concerned about Early Childhood Caries (ECC). This particular form of tooth decay can have a devastating effect on primary (baby) teeth and lead to their premature demise. Losing one before its time could adversely affect how the future permanent tooth comes in.
You can help prevent ECC with daily brushing and cleaning, regular dental visits (beginning around their first birthday) and limiting the sugar they eat. Here are 3 more things to consider for boosting your prevention efforts.
Breastfeeding. Pediatricians generally recommend breastfeeding if possible for a baby's overall health, including dental development. And although breast milk contains fermentable carbohydrates that boost bacterial growth, it no more promotes tooth decay than similar foods and beverages. That said, though, once the child begins to eat and drink other foods and beverages, the combination of sugars in them and breast milk could increase the bacteria that causes ECC. This is another good reason to wean the child from breast milk as they begin to eat more solid foods.
Bottles and pacifiers. It's quite common for parents and caregivers to soothe a fussing or crying baby with a bottle filled with formula, milk or juice for sipping, or even a pacifier dipped in jam, sugar or some form of sweetener. But these practices can create an environment that promotes high acid production from bacteria feeding on the sugars. Instead, avoid giving them a “prop-up” bottle filled with liquids containing sugar and try to limit bottle use to mealtimes. And provide them pacifiers without sugary additives if you use them.
Medicines. Children with chronic illnesses or other needs often take medication containing sugar or with antihistamines that reduce the flow of acid-neutralizing saliva. If the medications can't be altered, then it's extra important for you to practice diligent, daily hygiene to reduce the effect of higher mouth acid.
If you would like more information on dental disease prevention in babies and young children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why it's Important for Your Baby.”
There are good reasons, for both health and appearance, to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant or similar restoration as soon as is practical. The bone around a tooth socket diminishes the longer it remains empty, up to 25% the first year. And, of course, your smile is less attractive, especially with a highly visible tooth.
If it’s your teenager, though, you may need to wait on a permanent restoration because their jaws are still developing. An implant placed before completion of jaw development could eventually appear out of alignment with neighboring teeth.
Our biggest concern is protecting bone health at the site of the missing tooth. We can do this and encourage growth by placing bone grafts (processed minerals from another donor) that serve as scaffolds on which surrounding bone can grow. Grafts usually dissolve (resorb) over time, but the rate of resorption can be slowed for a younger patient in need of long-term bone growth.
Planned orthodontic treatment can usually go on as scheduled. The orthodontist may accommodate the tooth loss by adding a temporary tooth within the braces or other device that matches the color and shape of the patient’s natural teeth. The orthodontist will also take care to maintain the empty space for a future implant or other restoration.
A dental implant is considered the best option for a missing tooth, not only for its life-like appearance and durability, but also its ability to encourage bone maintenance. Timing, though, is essential for teenagers. As it grows, the upper jaw will tend to move forward and down. Natural teeth move with this growth; implants, though, are attached differently and won’t move with the jawbone. While the other teeth around them move, the implants can appear to shrink back resulting in an unattractive smile appearance. So waiting until the jaw has finished growing is important.
For most people, jaw growth finishes by age twenty-one for men, women usually faster, but each person is different. The dentist’s expertise and experience, coupled with comparisons of adult family members’ facial appearances, will help determine the right time to undertake a permanent restoration for the best outcome both for health and a permanent, attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating teenagers with missing teeth, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
Howie Mandel, one of America’s premier television personalities, rarely takes it easy. Whether performing a standup comedy gig or shooting episodes of America’s Got Talent or Deal or No Deal, Mandel gives it all he’s got. And that intense drive isn’t reserved only for his career pursuits–he also brings his A-game to boosting his dental health.
Mandel is up front about his various dental issues, including multiple root canal treatments and the crowns on his two damaged front teeth. But he’s most jazzed about keeping his teeth clean (yep, he brushes and flosses daily) and visiting his dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
To say Howie Mandel is keen on taking care of his teeth and gums is an understatement. And you can be, too: Just five minutes a day could keep your smile healthy and attractive for a lifetime.
You’ll be using that time—less than one percent of your 1,440 daily minutes—brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque buildup. This sticky, bacterial film is the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Daily hygiene drastically reduces your risk for these tooth-damaging diseases.
But just because these tasks don’t take long, that’s not saying it’s a quick once-over for your teeth: You want to be as thorough as possible. Any leftover plaque can interact with saliva and become a calcified form known as calculus (tartar). Calculus triggers infection just as much as softer plaque—and you can’t dislodge it with brushing and flossing.
When you brush, then, be sure to go over all tooth areas, including biting surfaces and the gum line. A thorough brushing should take about two minutes. And don’t forget to floss! Your toothbrush can’t adequately reach areas between teeth, but flossing can. If you find regular flossing too difficult, try using a floss threader. If that is still problematic, an oral irrigator is a device that loosens and flushes away plaque with a pressurized water stream.
To fully close the gate against plaque, see us at least every six months. Even with the most diligent efforts, you might still miss some plaque and calculus. We can remove those lingering deposits, as well as let you know how well you’re succeeding with your daily hygiene habit.
Few people could keep up with Howie Mandel and his whirlwind career schedule, but you can certainly emulate his commitment to everyday dental care—and your teeth and gums will be the healthier for it.
If you would like more information about daily dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
If there’s one essential tool for protecting your dental health, it’s the humble toothbrush. The basic manual brush with a long, slender handle and short-bristled head is still effective when used skillfully. The market, though, is full of choices, all of them touting their brand as the best.
So how do you choose? You can cut through any marketing hype with a few simple guidelines.
First, understand what you’re trying to accomplish with brushing: removing dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces that’s the main cause of dental disease. Brushing also stimulates gum tissue and helps reduce inflammation.
With that in mind, you’ll first want to consider the texture of a toothbrush’s bristles, whether they’re stiff (hard) or more pliable (soft). You might think the firmer the better for removing plaque, but actually a soft-bristled brush is just as effective in this regard. Stiffer bristles could also damage the gums over the long term.
Speaking of bristles, look for those that have rounded tips. In a 2016 study, less rounded tips increased gum recession in the study’s participants by 30%. You should also look for toothbrushes with different bristle heights: longer bristles at the end can be more effective cleaning back teeth.
As far as size and shape, choose a brush that seems right and comfortable for you when you hold it. For children or people with dexterity problems, a handle with a large grip area can make the toothbrush easier to hold and use.
And look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, something you may have seen on some toothpaste brands. It means the toothbrush in question has undergone independent testing and meets the ADA’s standards for effectiveness. That doesn’t mean a particular brush without the seal is sub-standard—when in doubt ask your dentist on their recommendation.
Even a quality toothbrush is only as effective as your skill in using it. Your dental provider can help, giving you tips and training for getting the most out of your brush. With practice, you and your toothbrush can effectively remove disease-causing plaque and help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.
If you would like more information on what to look for in a toothbrush, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes.”
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