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Monthly Archives: October 2019

Sugar, Its Many Aliases, and Your Teeth

WHAT COMES TO MIND when you hear the word “sugar”? Probably your favorite type of candy or dessert, maybe your favorite soda. You probably didn’t picture barbecue sauce, granola bars, flavored yogurt, or fruit juice, but all of these and plenty more foods you wouldn’t suspect are loaded with sugar. That isn’t great news for our oral health.

Sugar Versus Our Teeth

Why are dental health professionals like us wary of sugar? Simple. The harmful bacteria on our teeth and gums like to eat sugar as much as we do. When they’ve enjoyed a tasty meal from the food fragments that remain in your mouth after a sweet treat, they excrete acid onto your teeth. This acid eats away at tooth enamel and irritates the gums, and if we aren’t careful, it can lead to issues like tooth decay and gum disease.

Learn to Recognize the Many Names of Sugar

If sugar is showing up in foods we don’t think of as sweet, how are we supposed to know? One trick is to check the “added sugars” line on food labels, but you can also identify it in the ingredients list, where it hides behind many different aliases.

The Obvious and the Sneaky

Anywhere the word “sugar” appears, from brown sugar to coconut sugar, from coarse to powdered — it’s all sugar. The word “syrup” is another giveaway. No matter what type of syrup it is, whether high fructose corn syrup or rice syrup, it’s still sugar.

The Deceptive and the Scientific

Some of sugar’s disguises are presented to you in a way to fool you into thinking they’re healthy. These include agave nectar, honey, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, and 100 percent fruit juice. Sugar will also hide behind intimidating, highly scientific-sounding labels, but a good way to identify them is by the suffix “-ose.” Fructose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, and glucose are all scientific names for types of sugar molecules.

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

With added sugars hiding in so many of the things we eat, cutting down on sugar can be a tricky business, but it’s definitely worth it both for our oral health and our overall health. The recommendation from the American Heart Association is that women consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day, and men 36 grams (9 teaspoons).

Healthy Sugar Alternatives

The way we eat our sugar is almost as important as how much we eat. Whole fruit is much better for us than fruit juice, and that’s because the sugar in fruit is trapped with a lot of water and fiber, so our bodies have a harder time absorbing it. Whole fruit is also more filling, so it’s harder to overdo it than it is drinking OJ with breakfast. This is the difference between natural sugars and processed sugar.

If fruit isn’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, you can try sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol, Stevia, monk fruit sweetener, and erythritol come in handy. It gets trickier if you want to bake sugar-free, but you can reduce the sugar in your recipes by substituting some or all of the sugar for applesauce, mashed banana, dates, or figs. And a good way to avoid added sugars is by eating more whole foods.

How Long Has It Been Since We Last Saw Your Teeth?

Cutting down on sugar is one way we can help out our teeth and gums, but it’s not the only way! A great brushing and flossing regimen and regular dental cleanings are key to maintaining good oral health. If we haven’t seen you in more than six months, today’s a great day to schedule your next appointment!

Our patients are the sweetest!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Animal Teeth Olympics

TEETH ARE OUR PASSION, and while we spend most of our time focusing on human teeth, sometimes it’s fun to take a look at the truly amazing teeth of the animal kingdom. So today we’re going to hold the olympics of animal teeth, to see which critters win the gold for biggest, strongest, hardest, and most teeth, as well as the teeth that are simply the strangest.

The Biggest Chompers

If we’re talking teeth used for biting, then hippos are the winners. If we’re talking about any kind of tooth, however, then African elephants win easily — unless it’s a question of the ratio of body length to tooth length, in which case the narwhal steals the gold medal. Male narwhals can grow tusks longer than half the length of their entire bodies, yet scientists still aren’t entirely sure what their purpose is.

The Strongest Bite

Having big teeth is great, but how much bite pressure can they use? Enormous tusks are useless in this area. The animal with the strongest bite in the world is the Nile crocodile. These scaly predators can snap their jaws with a whopping 5000 pounds per square inch of pressure. For comparison, we only use at most 200 psi to chew steak!

The Hardest Teeth

The hardest substance ever discovered in nature is the tooth of a limpet (sea snail). They have a tensile strength between 3 and 6.5 gigapascals, breaking the previous record of spider silk at 1.3 GPa. Limpets need super hard teeth in order to chew the algae off of hard rocks. The discovery of the hardness of limpet teeth could lead to technological breakthroughs in materials for construction, protective armor, and even dental fillings!

The Toothiest Jaw

Which animal do you think has the most teeth? Sharks, maybe? While sharks certainly do have a lot of teeth and are continuously regrowing ones that fall out, the answer is actually catfish, with the toothiest species sporting a staggering 9,280 teeth. These are cardiform teeth that look like tiny needles or hedgehog quills, and they’re arranged in rows and rows just inside their lips, angled backward so that once a catfish swallows something, it’s not getting back out.

Special Category: Weirdest Teeth

The gold for weirdest animal teeth has to go to the crabeater seal. These adorable swimmers have teeth that are individually serrated. They almost look like Christmas trees! But don’t worry; they don’t use them to saw through muscle and bone. No, the purpose of the weird shape is simply to strain krill. They take in a big gulp of krill-filled water, then close their teeth and squeeze out the excess water, keeping all that tasty krill trapped inside.

How Long Has It Been Since We Saw Your Chompers?

Do know of any other interesting animal teeth? We’d love to hear about them the next time you come in for an appointment. If it’s been a while since the last time we saw you, give us a call, and make sure you’re keeping up with your daily brushing and flossing in the meantime!

Our favorite teeth will always be our patients’!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Teeth-Friendly Halloween Treats

HALLOWEEN IS A TON OF fun every year, and it’s right around the corner! We love the costumes, the decorations, and the local events, but we’re a little wary of all that candy. Sugar isn’t just tasty to us; the harmful bacteria in our mouths love it. If you want to make Halloween a little healthier for your teeth, here’s a handy breakdown of how different types of treats and candies rank in terms of promoting good dental health.

Types of Halloween Candy to Avoid

Anything hard, sticky, or sour is going to be bad for your teeth. Hard candy takes a while to dissolve, which means your teeth are exposed to sugar for a long time. Sticky candy is like breakfast in bed for bacteria, adhering to the teeth and pushing the sugar right up against the enamel and gum tissue. Sour candy contains acid as well as sugar, so it’s doubly bad for teeth.

Candy That’s Good for Teeth?

Not all candy is awful for oral health. Some is actually pretty healthy. If you’re a fan of candy bars, aim for the types with plenty of nuts (assuming you don’t have a nut allergy or an orthodontic appliance). The nuts break up the stickiness and sugar of all the caramel and nougat, and they contain important nutrients.

Chocolate is on the good end of the oral health spectrum, and the darker, the better. Chocolate contains flavanoids and polyphenols, compounds that limit oral bacteria, fight bad breath, and slow tooth decay. Dark chocolate has more of these compounds and their benefits are less offset by sugar than in sweeter milk chocolate.

The best candy option for your teeth, unsurprisingly, is sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol. Other types of candy that use xylitol aren’t very common (yet), so you might not find much of it, but xylitol gum is a great sweet treat to aim for when trick-or-treating. Xylitol not only doesn’t feed oral bacteria, it actually hurts it!

Fight Back Against the Effects of Sugar

Aside from avoiding the more harmful candies in favor of dark chocolate, candy bars, and xylitol gum, there are other ways we can combat the effects sugar has on our teeth:

  • Don’t give harmful oral bacteria an all-day buffet! If you’re planning on eating a lot of candy, it’s better to eat it all in one sitting than spreading it out across an entire day. This way, your saliva will have a chance to neutralize the acids and wash away leftover sugar.
  • Drink water after enjoying some candy. It will help rinse out the sugar sticking to your teeth.
  • Wait half an hour after eating candy, then brush your teeth! Good brushing and flossing habits are essential to protecting your teeth from the effects of sugary candy.

Another Great Resource Is the Dentist!

Being careful about which candy you eat and when, rinsing with water, and maintaining good daily brushing and flossing habits are all great, but don’t forget about the best resource you have: the dentist! Schedule a cleaning appointment in early November to make sure Halloween hasn’t had a lasting effect on your teeth, or schedule one in October to get ahead of the game!

Have a happy, healthy Halloween!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Gum Recession: Minimizing Your Risks

THE EXPRESSION “getting long in the tooth” refers to gum recession, but this oral health problem isn’t necessarily connected to age. Gum recession is when the edge of the gingival tissue moves away from the crown of the tooth, exposing the root. The reason we tend to think of it as an age-related problem is that it tends to be so gradual that it takes many years to become noticeable, but it can begin at any age — even in childhood! — for a variety of reasons.

Gum Recession Caused by Genetics

Unfortunately, gum recession isn’t always avoidable, because it can be caused by genetics. Some people simply have more fragile gum tissue or they don’t have enough jaw bone surrounding the roots of their teeth to support the gums all the way up to the crowns. However, other contributing factors are easier to control, so even people who are predisposed to gum recession can still minimize it.

Bruxism: Bad for Teeth, Bad for Gums

Bruxism (chronic teeth-grinding) can cause all kinds of problems for oral health, and one of them is an increased risk of gum recession. Grinding puts a lot of pressure on the gums, and they can’t always hold up under it and begin to recede. The habit of grinding is often difficult to break, particularly for those who grind in their sleep. If you struggle with bruxism, come talk to us. You don’t have to fight this alone.

Overbrushing: Too Much of a Good Thing

Dentists spend so much time encouraging patients to brush their teeth more that you might be surprised to learn that it’s possible to brush your teeth too much. It’s certainly possible to brush them too hard. We call this overbrushing, and it can lead to enamel erosion and gum recession.

This problem is an easy one to avoid. Always keep in mind that brushing teeth is not the same as cleaning tile grout. Soft bristles are better for our gums and tooth enamel than hard bristles, and two minutes twice a day is usually enough. If you’re brushing so hard that your toothbrush bristles rapidly bend and fray within a couple months, it’s time to ease up. The same applies to flossing. Daily flossing is essential, but be gentle on your gums.

Gum Disease Leaves Gum Tissue Vulnerable

Gum disease, particularly in the advanced stages, destroys the supporting gum tissue and bone around teeth. It’s the main cause of gum recession. The best way to fight it is with good oral hygiene habits and regular dental appointments. Professional cleanings are absolutely crucial for maintaining good gum health, because once plaque hardens into tartar, it can only be removed by the dentist. The longer it remains, the more irritation it can cause the gums.

Kids Can Have Gum Recession?

It’s true; even kids aren’t completely safe from gum recession. The causes are the same for adults: improper brushing and flossing (specifically, overbrushing), bad oral hygiene, and teeth grinding. It can also come on as the result of an injury to the mouth. As with gum recession in adults, the best treatment is prevention through good oral health habits.

Let’s Keep Those Gums Healthy!

If you’re worried that your gums may be beginning to recede or you want to learn more about how you can prevent gum recession, schedule an appointment with us! We can help you take care of your gum health and discuss treatment options if needed.

We’re always rooting for our patients!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Charcoal Toothpaste: Science Versus Fads

IF GIVEN THE CHANCE to change something about their smiles, most people would choose to have whiter teeth, and quite a few are willing to try just about anything for it, including something as counterintuitive as scrubbing them with toothpaste made of charcoal.

The History of Charcoal as a Remedy

The activated charcoal-based dental and skin care products that have been popping up everywhere over the last couple of years aren’t entirely a new idea. Hippocrates of ancient Greece (originator of the Hippocratic Oath and often described as the Father of Medicine) recommended using charcoal to treat black gums and bad breath, and ancient Romans made mouthwashes and tooth powders out of burnt goat hooves.

Charcoal and teeth didn’t mix much from then until charcoal products began popping back up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1930s, charcoal dental cream and gum were advertised as a way to get fresher breath and remove tobacco stains. However, the American Dental Association raised safety concerns that led to the discontinuation of such products.

The Incomplete Logic of Charcoal in Toothpaste

Activated charcoal is actually extremely good at absorbing toxins, so the logic is to put that property to work cleaning teeth. It’s a nice theory, but it misses an important part of the picture. Charcoal is a highly abrasive substance, so even while it absorbs harmful compounds and maybe even helps break up surface stains on teeth, it’s also scraping up the enamel and eroding it away.

Furthermore, it doesn’t only absorb bad stuff:

The Lack of Data to Support Charcoal

Many charcoal-based products boast of the amazing effects they can have on tooth whiteness and breath freshness, but no studies have substantiated any of these claims. On the contrary, one study has shown that tooth surfaces became significantly rougher after just a month of using charcoal toothpaste compared to regular toothpaste. Yikes!

That roughened texture is enamel loss. Once enamel is gone, it’s gone for good, exposing the softer, more yellow dentin underneath and leaving the teeth much more vulnerable to decay. A temporarily whiter smile isn’t worth the long-term effects.

“Natural” Isn’t Always Better…or Safer

Charcoal toothpaste is one of many dubious products riding the tide of today’s “natural” remedies craze. Even though dozens — perhaps hundreds — of charcoal-based dental products now exist, not a single one of them has the backing of the ADA or the FDA. We encourage our patients to wait for the ADA’s approval on any dental health product, charcoal-based or otherwise.

Trust Whitening to the Experts

If you are one of the countless people who would love a whiter smile, there are safe, controlled ways to get it, from in-office whitening to take-home trays to over-the-counter strips. Instead of looking to trendy YouTubers for ideas, talk to real dental professionals who have years of training and experience working with teeth.

Your dental health is our number one priority!

Top image by Flickr user Marco Verch used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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