$9.1 billion: That's how much we Americans spent in 2018 on Halloween festivities, according to the National Retail Federation. And a sizeable chunk of that was for candy—a whopping 600 million pounds worth. That, my friends, is a lot of sugary goodness. For kids, it's what Halloween is all about—scoring a sack full of sticky, gooey, crunchy candy. For parents, though, all that sugar raises concerns for their kids' dental health.
That's because of something that loves sugar as much as little humans: oral bacteria. The more these microscopic creatures consume, the more they reproduce, which consequently leads to more mouth acid, a by-product of their digestion. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the mineral content in enamel and create the conditions for tooth decay.
To cut to the chase, excessive candy consumption increases the risk of tooth decay. Short of banning candy and ruining your kids' holiday fun, what then can you do to lower that risk this Halloween?
Here are a few tips:
Limit candy to mealtimes. The mouth's acid levels tend to rise while we're eating. The body counters with saliva, which has the capacity to neutralize acid and restore lost minerals to enamel. But if your kids are snacking on sweets over a long period, saliva can't get ahead of the recurring waves of acid. So, try to limit your kids' candy consumption to a few pieces at mealtimes only.
Don't brush right after eating candy. The short period during and after eating of high acid levels can still soften tooth enamel. If your child brushes soon after eating candy, they could also remove tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before brushing to allow saliva time to remineralize the enamel.
Encourage alternatives to candy as Halloween treats. While candy is a huge part of Halloween, it needn't have a monopoly on all the celebratory fun. So, encourage your little tricksters to accept—and their treaters to provide—other kinds of treats like small toys, glow sticks, or other items that count as treasure to children (be sure they're age-appropriate, though).
Halloween is a great time of family fun, and candy may always play a prominent role in the merriment. Just be sure to practice moderation with sweet Halloween treats to avoid dental problems down the road.
If you would like more information about how to manage your family's sugar consumption for optimum dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
In your search for the right toothpaste, you’re inundated with dozens of choices, each promising whiter teeth, fresher breath or fewer cavities. Cutting through the various marketing claims, though, you’ll find most toothpaste brands are surprisingly alike, each containing the same basic ingredients. Taken together, these ingredients help toothpaste perform its primary task — removing daily bacterial plaque from tooth surfaces.
Here, then, are some of the ingredients you’ll find — or want to find — in toothpaste.
Abrasives. A mild abrasive increases your brushing effectiveness removing sticky food remnants from teeth. And unlike the burnt, crushed eggshells of the ancient Egyptians or the brick dust used by 18th Century Brits, today’s toothpaste abrasives — hydrated silica (from sand), calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphates — are much milder and friendlier to teeth.
Detergents. Some substances in plaque aren’t soluble, meaning they won’t break down in contact with water. Such substances require a detergent, also known as a surfactant. It performs a similar action as dishwashing or laundry soaps breaking down grease and stains — but the detergents used in toothpaste are much milder so as not to damage teeth or irritate gum tissues. The most common detergent, sodium lauryl sulfate, is gentle but effective for most people. If it does cause you irritation, however, you may want to look for a paste that doesn’t contain it.
Fluoride. This proven enamel strengthener has been routinely added to toothpaste since the 1950s, and is regarded as one of the most important defenses against tooth decay. If you’re checking ingredients labels, you’ll usually find it listed as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorosphosphate (MFP). And since it inhibits bacterial growth, fluoride toothpastes don’t require preservative additives.
Humectants, binders and flavoring. Humectants help toothpaste retain moisture, while binders prevent blended ingredients from separating; without them your toothpaste would dry out quickly and require stirring before each use. And, without that sweet (though without added sugar) and normally mint flavoring, you wouldn’t find the average toothpaste very tasty.
The ADA Seal of Approval. Although not an ingredient, it’s still sound advice to look for it on toothpaste packaging. The seal indicates the product’s health claims and benefits are supported by the research standards set by the American Dental Society; and all ADA approved toothpastes will contain fluoride.
If you would like more information on toothpaste and other oral hygiene products, 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 “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
One thing’s for sure: We’re all getting older. Here’s another sure thing: Aging doesn’t necessarily look the same on everyone. That one spry octogenarian lapping younger folks on the track is all the proof you need. That’s why September has been designated Healthy Aging® Month: to remind everyone that aging well is an investment you make throughout your life—and that includes taking care of your dental health.
Just like the rest of the body, your teeth and gums are susceptible to the effects of aging. For example, after 50,000-plus meals (about 45 years’ worth), you can expect some teeth wear. A tooth-grinding habit, though, could accelerate that wear. If you think you’re grinding your teeth (especially at night), we can fit you with mouthguard worn while you sleep that reduces the force on your teeth. Managing your stress could also help reduce this involuntary habit.
Aging also increases your risk for the two most common dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Although different in the way they infect oral tissues, both can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss. Prevention is your best strategy—through daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to keep the dental plaque that fuels both diseases from building up on your teeth.
You should also see your dentist at the first sign of a toothache, unusual spots on the teeth and swollen or bleeding gums. These are all indicative of infection—and the sooner you’re diagnosed and treated, the more quickly you can return to optimum oral health.
Aging can bring other health conditions, and some of the medications to manage them could reduce your mouth’s saliva flow. Because saliva fights dental infections and helps restore enamel after acid attacks, “dry mouth” can increase your disease risk. If you’re noticing this, speak with your doctor about your medications, ask us about saliva boosters, and drink more water.
Finally, have any existing restorations checked regularly, especially dentures, which can lose their fit. Loose dentures may also be a sign of continuing bone loss in the jaw, a consequence of losing teeth. If so, consider dental implants: The design of this premier tooth restoration can help curb bone loss by encouraging new growth.
There’s a lot to keep up with health-wise if you want your senior years to be full of vim and vigor. Be sure your teeth and gums are part of that upkeep.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health as you age, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless” and “Dry Mouth: Causes and Treatment for This Common Problem.”
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