Author Archives: Dr. Greg LaVecchia

3 of History’s Strangest Teeth Traditions

THROUGHOUT HISTORY, different cultures have come up with some pretty unusual solutions for dental health problems. Let’s take a look at a few of the weirdest ones.

1. Mice for Pain Management?

These days, when we hear the word “painkiller,” we generally think of little pills. Ancient Egyptians were more likely to think of mice. They made a pain-relieving paste, and mice were on the list of ingredients. If someone got a toothache, they would rub this paste over the tender area.

2. Stopping Bruxism With Skulls

What did ancient cultures do about bruxism, or chronic teeth-grinding? The ancient Babylonians believed that demons were to blame for a grinding habit. Their solution was to place a human skull right next to their head while they slept. The skull could supposedly scare away the demon and, by extension, the bruxism.

3. Pitch-Black Smiles

These days, having sparkling white teeth is the beauty standard many of us strive for, but it was the opposite in a lot of Asian cultures in the past. Until the end of the Meiji period, many Japanese women and samurai blackened their teeth in a process called Ohaguro. Black teeth were considered more attractive, and they even believed that the process made teeth more resistant to decay.

(Do not try any of these at home.)

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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.

Quit That Ice-Chewing Habit!

WHAT’S SO BAD about chewing ice? It can actually do a lot of permanent damage to teeth, and yet many people have a habit of chewing ice that can be difficult to quit. Let’s look closer at ice chewing and its effects on dental health.

Compulsive Ice Eating, or Pagophagia

The scientific name for compulsive ice eating is pagophagia. For some people, it goes beyond the level of a bad habit and actually indicates a psychological disorder called pica. Pica is the compulsion to eat non-food items such as dirt, clay, hair, or ice, and it is sometimes caused by a nutritional deficiency.

How Iron Deficiency Anemia Leads to Eating Ice

Recent studies have found a connection between the compulsive eating of ice and iron deficiency anemia, a condition that affects 3% of men and 20% of women (a number that goes up to 50% for pregnant women).

What do iron levels have to do with eating ice? Ice doesn’t contain iron, so how would eating it help with an iron deficiency? It’s actually pretty fascinating. Our red blood cells require iron to be able to effectively carry oxygen throughout our bodies. A person who is iron deficient doesn’t get as much oxygen to their brain. By eating ice, they stimulate the blood flow to the head (and consequently the brain), giving them a temporary boost in alertness and mental clarity.

How Ice Affects Our Teeth and Gums

All of that might seem like a clever workaround for iron deficiency, but it comes with serious drawbacks. Tooth enamel is the strongest substance in the body, but it’s very brittle. Ice isn’t dangerous to chew merely because it is hard, but specifically because it is cold.

Crunching and grinding ice cubes (no matter how much or what their texture is) makes the enamel expand and contract like pavement in places that get a lot of snow. Just like that pavement, the enamel will develop cracks over time.

The weaker the enamel is, the more vulnerable the rest of the tooth is to painful sensitivity and decay. Chewing ice isn’t good for gum tissue either. Because of its temperature, it creates a numbing effect while chewing, which makes it harder to notice an injury if it slips and slices the gums. Ice can even chip or break teeth.

How Can I Break My Ice-Chewing Habit?

Before fighting the symptoms, it’s important to learn the cause. If the pagophagia is due to iron deficiency, iron supplements may remove the cravings to chew ice and the habit will go away on its own. If the problem is pica, a variety of interventions, from therapy to medication, are available.

If the craving is less about the ice than the crunch, we recommend replacing ice with baby carrots or apple slices. If it really is about the ice but not connected to pica or iron deficiency, try letting the ice melt on your tongue instead of crunching down on it.

Dental Professionals Can Help!

The dentist is a great person to go to if you struggle with an ice chewing habit. Another is your general physician. We can figure out what’s causing it and treat existing damage to the gum tissue and teeth, as well as preventing additional damage by helping you kick the habit.

It’s time to put your ice-chewing days behind you!

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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.

What Builds a Healthy Smile?

WE ALL KNOW how important daily brushing and flossing are to a growing child’s smile. We know about scheduling regular dental appointments, and hopefully we know that cutting back on sugar and keeping it to mealtimes instead of snacks throughout the day is also important. But what about the vitamins and minerals that help build those healthy smiles in the first place?

Vitamins for Oral Health

What keeps saliva flowing so it can protect our teeth and gums? Vitamin A! Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps our bodies heal and fight inflammation. When kids don’t get enough, their gums could become more prone to bleeding and their teeth can become looser.

Vitamin D signals our intestines to absorb vitamins into the bloodstream and helps our bones stay dense and strong. Vitamins B2, 3, and 12 are important for reducing the risk of developing canker sores in the mouth, and B3 also helps us convert food into energy.

How About Those Minerals?

Calcium is great for building strong teeth and bones, and magnesium helps the body absorb it. We need iron to maintain good oxygen levels in our cells. Finally, zinc helps us fight oral bacteria and plaque by making it harder for it to build up along the gumline.

We’re here to help you build a healthy smile!

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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.

Protecting Kids from Dental Injuries

BEING A KID involves lots of scraped knees and bumps and bruises from running around and discovering the world. Parents want their kids to enjoy everything childhood has to offer, but preferably while avoiding some of its downsides, such as preventable tooth injuries. What can we do to keep our kids’ teeth safe? Here are a few tips to follow.

Common Causes of Childhood Tooth Injuries

Whether our kids are playing in the backyard or at a playground with friends, there are a few simple ways we can keep their teeth safe. First, it’s important to know the common causes of tooth injuries.

Babies and toddlers receive the most tooth injuries in the bathtub, because it’s very easy for them to fall in a wet, slippery porcelain environment. We can minimize the risk by keeping a close eye on them when they’re in the tub.

Anything meant to be thrown, like a ball or frisbee, is a likely culprit of tooth injuries. Make sure to talk to your kids about safety, particularly how important it is not to aim for each other’s heads.

Another common cause of tooth injuries is playground equipment like monkey bars, jungle gyms, and even swings. Talk to your children about being careful around this equipment. Falling on their faces could be enough to knock out a tooth.

Make a Plan in Advance

Accidents sometimes happen no matter how careful we are, and that’s why making a plan for what to do in the event of a sudden tooth injury is so important. The first step to any emergency plan is not to panic. Assess the situation. If the injured tooth is an adult tooth or a baby tooth that wasn’t loose, try to put it back in place (or store it in cold milk if you can’t) and get to the dentist right away. Make sure you know the location of the dentist’s office!

It isn’t always possible to reattach a tooth, but fast action like this will give it its best chance. The goal with a knocked out tooth is to keep the root alive until you reach the dentist. Make sure you don’t touch the root or attempt to clean it, and don’t store it in water or on ice, because any of those things will kill it, and it will be impossible to replant.

If the injury doesn’t only involve teeth, the child may need to go to the emergency room before the dentist. Many hospitals have dentists on staff who can help with dental injuries in a larger medical emergency.

Another Way to Protect Teeth: Keep Them Healthy

A great way to help protect our kids’ teeth from injury is to keep them healthy and strong by teaching great oral hygiene habits. Kids should learn to brush for two minutes twice a day and floss once a day, and we should make sure they have regular dental appointments. When teeth are healthy, they’re better at resisting injuries!

We love those healthy little smiles!

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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.

Types of Dental Careers

WHAT DOES A CAREER in dentistry look like? Being a dentist is an incredibly rewarding career, and beyond helping our patients maintain lifelong healthy smiles, we hope our team inspires at least a few budding dentists out there!

Private Practice Dentists Aren’t the Whole Story

The dental career everyone is most familiar with is the private practice dentist, meaning an individual dentist or a partnership working with local patients in their own practice. Not everyone who graduates from a four-year dental program goes in this direction.

Other Types of Dentists

Academic dentists add a teaching role and help usher in the next generation of dentists. Research dentists get to be on the cutting edge of new advancements in treatments and technology. Some dentists go international and work with organizations like the WHO, UNESCO, and FAO. Finally, there are dentists who work alongside physicians in hospitals.

Dental Specialties

About 20% of dentists undergo additional years of training in one of the nine dental specialties: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics.

The Team Is More Than the Dentist

Aside from the dentists themselves, other essential roles in the field of dentistry are dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental lab technicians. Hygienists and assistants interact closely with patients to ensure a high level of care, while dental lab technicians work behind the scenes designing the dentures, crowns, and braces used by dentists.

And of course we wouldn’t get far without our office staff!

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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.

The Impact of Chemistry on Oral Health

HOW MUCH DO you remember from learning about the pH scale in science class? Don’t worry; if you forgot all of it, we’ll give you a little refresher, because acids and bases are pretty important when it comes to the health of our teeth and gums.

A Crash Course in the pH Scale

The pH scale is how we measure how acidic or basic a substance is. The scale goes from 1 to 14. Neutral substances (like water) have a pH of 7, while highly acidic things are lower on the scale and highly basic things are higher on the scale.

To give you an idea of where some common substances land, orange juice ranges from 3.3 to 4.2 and stomach acid is all the way down between 1.5 and 2.5. Soap is mildly basic at between 9 and 10, and bleach is a powerful base at 12.5. What pH is best for our mouths?

Ideal Oral pH

The human body isn’t all the same pH. Our skin is happiest when mildly acidic (with a pH of about 5.5), but blood should be slightly basic (7.4). For our teeth and gums to stay as healthy as possible, we want our oral pH to remain neutral the majority of the time. An unhealthy mouth is more acidic, which can seriously damage tooth enamel over time. Tooth enamel is extremely hard so that it can withstand a lifetime of chewing, but it begins eroding at a mildly acidic pH of 5.5.

What Makes Mouths Acidic?

So how does acid end up in our mouths? The most direct way is by eating or drinking something tart or sour. The bubbles in soda pop, regular and diet alike, come from carbonic acid even though not all soda tastes sour. Our mouths can also become acidic indirectly. When we consume sugary or starchy things, harmful oral bacteria eats the leftovers and excretes acid onto our teeth and gums as a waste product. Acid reflux or vomiting also introduces more acid to the mouth.

Saliva Is the First Line of Defense Against Acid

Fortunately, our mouths have a built-in defense mechanism against acid: our spit! Saliva washes away leftover particles of food and neutralizes our oral pH over time. This is what makes dry mouth so dangerous to our teeth and gums beyond the way it can make chewing and swallowing difficult. Our teeth are left vulnerable to acid erosion without enough saliva.

What can we do to help our saliva do this critical job? We can avoid sipping on or snacking on sugary drinks and treats. Every time we consume something acidic or containing sugar or starch, we reset the clock on our saliva neutralizing our oral pH. That’s why we recommend keeping the treats to mealtimes instead of continuous sipping and snacking.

Consume Less Sugar and Acid

We can also reduce the overall amount of sugary or acidic things we eat, which means minimizing the soda and sugary treats along with breads and dairy products and adding in more fruits and veggies.

Let’s Unite in the Fight Against Enamel Erosion!

Eating less sugary or acidic food and keeping the ones you do to mealtimes will really help your oral pH stay neutral, but it’s not a replacement for twice-daily brushing and daily flossing — nor is it a replacement for regular dental appointments! These habits are still essential to lifelong oral health.

We love our patients’ healthy smiles!

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.

Weird Mouth Trivia to Drop at Parties

LOOKING FOR SOME trivia to impress people once we can safely have parties again? We humbly present a few of our favorite weird mouth facts for your consideration.

We Need Spit to Taste Our Food

Most of the ten thousand taste buds in our mouths are located on our tongues, but none of them would do us any good without spit. When food molecules dissolve in our spit, the chemicals can be detected by the receptors on our taste buds.

The Bumps on New Adult Teeth Are Called…

Do you remember when your adult front teeth came in that they had funny little bumps on the chewing surfaces, or have you noticed them on your child’s teeth? Those bumps are called mamelons. The theory is that they help the teeth break through the gums. For most people, they wear away over time with regular chewing.

And The Bumps on the Tongue?

It’s easy to assume that the bumps on our tongues are taste buds. That’s true in a way, but individual taste buds are much too small to see with the naked eye. The bumps are structures called lingual papillae, and there are four types: filiform, fungiform, foliate, and vallate. That’s getting into a more intense biology lesson, but basically, all of them except the fungiform papillae have taste buds on them.

To tie it back to oral health, the trouble with papillae is that they create a rough texture on the tongue’s surface where lots of bacteria can hide. If we let it build up, it can leave a lingering bad taste in our mouth and a bad smell on our breath. It can even dull our sense of taste! That’s why we need to clean our tongues daily, ideally with a tongue-scraper.

The Only Group of Muscles That Doesn’t Need Bones to Move

The tongue is made up of eight muscles. Four of those are intrinsic (the ones that actually make up the tongue) and four are extrinsic (the ones that attach the tongue to the mouth and throat). The tongue has an amazing range of movements. It can lengthen, shorten, curl, uncurl, and roll (though not everyone can do that last one). We’d have a hard time eating and speaking if it couldn’t move in these ways!

The Tongue Has Amazing Stamina

It’s a myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, but it is true that it doesn’t really get tired after getting a workout. The reason for that is the tongue’s many built-in redundancy systems that come from having eight different muscles working together.

Our Teeth (Including Adult Teeth) Begin Developing Before We’re Born

Around six weeks into fetal development, baby teeth begin developing. After another six weeks, the adult teeth get going. The baby teeth won’t finish forming for many more months, and the adult teeth for years, but it’s incredible how early the process starts.

What Weird Mouth Facts Do You Know?

Maybe mouth facts aren’t the trivia category you usually go for at parties, but as dental health professionals, it definitely our favorite. We’d love to hear any others you know the next time we see you for an appointment!

Final piece of trivia: our patients are the best!

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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.

Plan Ahead for the First Loose Tooth!

A GREAT WAY to make the prospect of losing that first baby tooth less scary is to help kids see it as a rite of passage: losing baby teeth is a major part of being a big kid, just like learning to ride a bike and tie their own shoelaces. It’s a big, exciting step, and hopefully they’ll be able to see it that way with a little help.

What’s Your Strategy?

Any loose tooth game plan should include the actual strategy for helping the tooth come out. We would discourage parents from chasing their kids around with a pair of pliers, as that won’t be very fun for them. Encourage them to wiggle the tooth often with their tongue or a clean finger to help it along, and try not to force the issue if they’re still too nervous. It’s generally best to wait until the tooth is very loose.

Give Your Child an Active Role

When it comes to pulling the tooth out, there’s the old standby of tying some dental floss around a doorknob, but parents could also make it a little more unique by tying the floss to a Nerf dart, a toy arrow, or the dog’s collar. See which one the child likes best.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate!

Once the tooth is out, it’s time to celebrate! That could be as simple as waiting for the Tooth Fairy, but maybe a new toy or a trip to get ice cream would be more exciting. Including some kind of reward, even a small one, will help them have something to focus on besides the scary parts.

Top image by Flickr user Micah Sittig 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.

The Tooth Fairy Then and Now

WE CAN ALL REMEMBER what it was like to put a baby tooth under the pillow and find a shiny quarter there in the morning. The Tooth Fairy is a prominent figure in the magic of childhood, and it’s fun to look at how cultures have approached lost baby teeth differently throughout history.

The Superstitions That Preceded the Tooth Fairy

Long before the Tooth Fairy was sneaking teeth out from under pillows, she was digging them out of the ground. Medieval Europeans would burn or bury baby teeth because they believed that a witch could control people if she got hold of their teeth.

In addition to protecting themselves from witches, kids would burn their baby teeth to help ensure a peaceful afterlife, because they might be doomed to an eternity of searching for their teeth as ghosts if they didn’t destroy them! That sounds pretty intense.

Unlike their neighbors to the south, the Vikings considered baby teeth to be good luck in battle — so much so that they would buy them so that they could wear necklaces made out of children’s teeth! That could either be very intimidating or very strange-looking — or maybe both.

Tooth Fairy…or Tooth Mouse?

The Tooth Fairy doesn’t look like Tinkerbell in every culture. Many Latin and European countries have a Tooth Mouse instead! She’s called Le Petit Souris in France, which translates to “the little mouse,” and like the Tooth Fairy, she swaps out teeth hidden under pillows for money or small gifts. In many Spanish-speaking countries, the Tooth Mouse is Raton Perez.

How Did We Come Up With the Tooth Fairy?

Like many of our traditions in the U.S., the Tooth Fairy has its roots in European folklore. The modern idea of the Tooth Fairy got its start in the early 1900s, and it was actually the beloved fairy characters popularized by Walt Disney that helped the idea gain enough traction to become what it is now.

Why Do We Need the Tooth Fairy?

We probably don’t “need” the Tooth Fairy, but losing a tooth can be a scary experience for many children, and having something magical like a reward from the Tooth Fairy to look forward can really help. They’ll have something to be excited about instead of focusing only on how much it might hurt to lose the tooth. But fantasy characters aren’t the only ones out there who can help with children’s tooth concerns: dentists can too!

We have the best 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.

The First Woman to Earn a Dental Degree

IT’S WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH, which makes it a great time to celebrate a pretty awesome lady: Lucy Hobbs Taylor, DDS, the first woman to earn a dental degree in North America.

Who Was Lucy Hobbs Taylor?

Born in 1833, Lucy developed a passion for medicine in her 20s while working as a teacher. She was rejected by a medical school because of her gender and advised to try dentistry instead, but she faced multiple rejections there too. 😕

Lucy’s Dental Education

Undaunted, she found a professor who would teach her privately and opened her own practice at age 28. It didn’t take long after that for her to be recognized by her male peers for her skill and gentle chair-side manner, and she was finally accepted into the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, from which she received her degree in 1866. 🙌

The Student Becomes the Teacher

The next year, Lucy married James M. Taylor, a railcar painter and Civil War veteran. She combined her previous experience as a teacher with her hard-won dental expertise by training her husband to be a dentist too! Together, the couple established a successful practice in Lawrence, Kansas. 👩‍⚕️👨‍⚕️

After James died, Lucy spent less time on dentistry and became active in politics, campaigning for issues like women’s suffrage. Her example inspired many more women to pursue careers in dentistry.

We’re grateful to all of the pioneers of dentistry!

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.