The market for sugar alternatives has grown exponentially since saccharin was accidentally discovered in 1878. Today, saccharin has been joined by other FDA-approved zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, including aspartame (“Equal®” or “NutraSweet®”), sucralose (“Splenda®”) and rebaudioside A, derived from the stevia plant. You can also choose low-calorie alcohol sugars like erythritol or xylitol.
With rare exceptions, all these choices are widely considered safe substitutes for table sugar, high fructose corn syrup or other versions of this plentiful carbohydrate. Finding substitutes for sugar is a worthy health goal: besides its role in obesity, sugar is considered a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It's also a prime food for oral bacteria that cause dental disease. As bacteria consume sugar they produce acid as a byproduct. Acid softens and dissolves the mineral content in enamel, leading to erosion and the formation of cavities. While saliva normally neutralizes acid after we eat, constant snacking and higher quantities of sugar in our food make it difficult for it to control or neutralize acid in the oral environment.
Because most of us are hard-wired with a “sweet tooth,” it's difficult for many to cut back on sugar. Artificial sweeteners help reduce the amount of sugar in the diet with obvious benefits for general health. It can also make a big difference in your dental health by helping you prevent tooth decay.
One alcohol sugar may even go a step further. In addition to reducing the presence of sugar in the mouth, xylitol (found in chewing gums, candy and breath mints) also seems to reduce bacterial growth by interfering with their ability to ferment the sugar.
If you're considering using an artificial sweetener, get to know them first: some like aspartame aren't suitable for baked goods or cooking, while saccharine or sucralose are. People with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria also can't properly process aspartame in the body.
Be sure you also talk to us about artificial sweeteners' impact on oral health, especially the benefits of xylitol for dental care. Used in a wise and informed way, these sugar alternatives can improve both your oral and general health.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners impact 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 “Artificial Sweeteners: Satisfying and Protecting your Sweet Tooth.”
As your mother used to say, “A moist mouth is a healthy mouth.” Well, maybe she didn't — but it's still true. Without the constant flow of saliva, your teeth and gums would be less healthy.
That's because among its many functions, saliva helps keep the mouth from becoming too acidic. Just after eating, your mouth's neutral pH level tips to the acidic side of the scale. Acid is enamel's number one enemy, and it takes little time for it to begin dissolving mineral content. But in thirty minutes to an hour, saliva neutralizes the acid; it also helps restore some of the enamel's minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, acid quickly gets the upper hand. In time, this can greatly increase your risk for dental disease. And for many people, inadequate saliva — dry mouth — is a chronic problem.
There are a number of reasons why. Salivary glands may not produce as much in our later years. In addition, as we age, we may begin taking more medications, some of which can cause dry mouth. Treatments for certain kinds of systemic diseases, particularly cancer, can also inhibit saliva or even damage salivary glands.
If you feel your mouth is continuously dry, make an appointment to find out the cause, which will determine the best course of action to alleviate it. If it's related to your medication, we'll see if there's an alternative. If not, you may need to drink more water when you take your medication and more throughout the day.
There are other things you can do as well. Reduce your intake of acidic foods or caffeinated beverages. Run a cool-air humidifier at night to keep your mouth and nose membranes moist. And you can also try saliva stimulants available by prescription or even over the counter. Chewing gum with xylitol (an alcohol-based sugar) has also been shown to stimulate saliva flow.
Above all, be diligent about daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Keeping a watchful eye will help ensure dental disease doesn't take advantage of your dry mouth.
If you would like more information on managing dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
If there was an “Unsung Hero” award for dental procedures, the root canal treatment would win hands-down. Much aligned in popular culture, today’s root canal treatment is actually a valuable tool for saving teeth that would otherwise be lost. And contrary to popular belief, root canal treatments don’t cause pain — they relieve it.
To help you understand its true worth, here are some common questions and answers about the root canal treatment.
What problem does a root canal treatment fix?
A root canal treatment stops a bacterial infection that has invaded the innermost part of a tooth — the pulp — and is advancing toward the end of the root through small passageways known as root canals. Most people first notice the problem as a sharp pain in the affected tooth that may suddenly dissipate in a few days. The infection has attacked the inner pulp tissue, rich in nerve fibers; when the nerve fibers die they stop sending pain signals. The infection, however, hasn’t died: as it advances, you may then begin to experience pain when you bite down or when you encounter hot foods. You may also notice tenderness and swelling in nearby gums.
How does the procedure stop the infection?
A root canal treatment removes all the infected or dead tissue and cleanses the pulp chamber. We enter the pulp chamber through a small access hole created in the tooth’s biting surface. After tissue removal, we then “shape” and prepare the empty chamber and root canals (often with the aid of microscopic equipment) to be filled with a special filling. After filling, the tooth is then sealed to prevent re-infection (most often, we need to install a permanent crown at a subsequent visit for maximum protection).
How much pain can I expect during and after the procedure?
During the procedure, none — the tooth and surrounding gums are fully anesthetized before we begin the procedure. Afterward, you may experience mild discomfort for a few days that can be relieved with over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen.
What’s the ultimate value for a root canal treatment?
The procedure can save a tooth severely damaged by the infection. Even covered by an artificial crown, a living tooth continuing to exist and function normally within the mouth is usually more conducive for optimum oral health than an artificial tooth replacement.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment.”
If you ever get out of the habit of daily brushing and flossing, you’re setting yourself up for dental disease. Neglecting oral hygiene allows bacterial plaque to build up on tooth surfaces, which can give rise to aggressive gum infections known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease may first manifest itself as gingivitis, an inflammation of the outer gum tissues around teeth. Resuming hygiene habits could help reduce the infection if it’s detected early enough. If the infection has spread deeper below the gum line, though, brushing and flossing won’t be able to reach and remove the offending plaque — you’ll need our help with that.
The objective of any such treatment is the same as your daily brushing and flossing — remove plaque as well as hardened deposits (calculus) that cause disease. The most basic technique is called scaling in which we use specialized hand instruments (scalers) or ultrasonic equipment to loosen and remove the plaque and calculus from all tooth and gum surfaces.
For deeper plaque, we may need to use a technique called root planing. As its name implies, we use equipment similar to scalers to shave or “plane” plaque, calculus, bacteria or other toxins from the roots that have become ingrained in their surfaces.
These procedures are often carried out with local anesthesia to ensure patient comfort and allow us to be as meticulous as possible with plaque and calculus removal. It’s imperative that we remove as much plaque and calculus as possible, and which often involves more than one session. This is because as the gum tissues become less inflamed it allows us to access more plaque-infested areas during subsequent sessions.
Hopefully, these techniques will arrest the infection and restore good health to gum tissues. It’s then important for you to recommit and follow through on a renewed daily hygiene regimen to reduce the chances of re-infection that could lead to more serious problems and potential tooth loss.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “Root Planing.”
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