It's National Dairy Month and time to pay tribute to the aurochs, those shaggy creatures who once roamed the Fertile Crescent until people began domesticating them about 8,000 years ago. Today we call them cows, the source of nutritious dairy that can help us, among other things, maintain a healthier mouth.
Since the first auroch roundup, we humans have been drinking milk and eating cheese with abandon—excepting those who suffer from lactose intolerance or who avoid dairy for other reasons, such as the high saturated fat content of some dairy products. However, dairy confers many health benefits, so if you haven't quite made up your mind about this particular food group, you should consider that milk, cheese and other forms of dairy are chock-full of nutrients. And, it just so happens, some of these nutrients are especially beneficial for your teeth.
Calcium. You can get this important mineral from different foods, but dairy is loaded with it. Similar to our bones, tooth enamel absorbs calcium, which in turn strengthens it against decay.
Phosphorus. Phosphorus, another mineral found in dairy, is highly beneficial for overall health. In regard to teeth, phosphorus helps calcium maximize its strengthening ability in enamel.
Vitamin D. This nutrient helps your enamel absorb calcium, whereas a vitamin D deficiency increases your susceptibility to both tooth decay and gum disease.
Casein. This dairy protein can form a protective film over teeth. Coupled with other nutrients, this further reduces your risk of tooth decay.
Eating dairy is definitely beneficial for your dental health. If needed, you can select lactose-free dairy products. And to cut down on saturated fat, you can choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. You can, for example, drink non-fat or low-fat milk, or indulge in some non-fat Greek yogurt with granola or in a fruit smoothie. Cheese is also an excellent type of dairy for teeth because it reduces decay-causing acidity during and after meals. So try eating a bite of cheese by itself, or experiment by adding it to vegetable dishes or salads.
As in most things, incorporate dairy into your diet in moderation. A little of this popular food group can go a long way toward keeping your teeth healthy.
If you would like more information about nutrition and your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced tooth decay, 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
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