As with most Western countries, we in the U.S. love our carbs. While fats and proteins make an appearance in our diets, many of us go full-tilt on sugars, starches and fibers.
Regardless of what some diet gurus say, we do need these organic compounds to generate energy for our cells. But carbs can also fuel inflammation: This is a mechanism in the body that isolates and protects healthy tissues from damaged tissues or toxins. Chronic inflammation, though, contributes to systemic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and, yes, gum disease.
And it's not just a matter of too many carbs in your diet. Not all carbs are equal: Some can actually stimulate inflammation, making conditions like gum disease worse. Others, though, might actually help decrease inflammation.
So, in terms of your gum health in particular, how do you know which carbs are better for you and which are worse?
It depends on their ranking on the glycemic index, a measure of how fast the body digests a particular carbohydrate to form glucose, the blood sugar that fuels our cells. The faster the digestion (higher on the glycemic index), the more likely they'll overload the bloodstream with glucose, requiring the release of the hormone insulin to bring the levels back to normal. Continuous insulin increases ultimately lead to higher inflammation.
High glycemic foods include those with added sugar, bakery items made with white flour, white rice or mashed potatoes. But there are also carb foods low on the glycemic scale—most vegetables, greens, beans, nuts and whole grains—whose slower digestive rates avoid the big blood sugar spikes and excessive insulin—and actually hinder inflammation.
So, if you want to control inflammation, reduce your consumption of high glycemic foods like chips, French fries, cookies and similar items. Instead, eat low glycemic foods like apples, bulgur wheat products, oatmeal, and other fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
In short: steer clear of processed foods with added sugar, and indulge yourself in fresh “real” food. These also have the added bonuses of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that keep your body functioning normally. And that can also make a big difference toward keeping your gums healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on diet and 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “one of the ten most important public health measures of the 20th Century.” A new vaccine? A cure for a major disease? No—the CDC is referring to the addition of fluoride to drinking water to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is a chemical compound found in foods, soil and water. Its presence in the latter, in fact, was key to the discovery of its dental benefits in the early 20th Century. A dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose natural water sources were abundant with fluoride, noticed his patients' teeth had unusual staining but no tooth decay. Curious, he did some detective work and found fluoride in drinking water to be the common denominator.
By mid-century, fluoride was generally recognized as a cavity fighter. But it also had its critics (still lively today) that believed it might also cause serious health problems. Ongoing studies, however, found that fluoride in tiny amounts—as small as a grain of sand in a gallon of water—had an immense effect strengthening enamel with scant risk to health.
The only condition found caused by excess fluoride is a form of tooth staining called fluorosis (like those in Colorado Springs). Fluorosis doesn't harm the teeth and is at worst a cosmetic problem. And it can be avoided by regulating the amount of ingested fluoride to just enough for effectively preventing tooth decay.
As researchers have continued to learn more about fluoride, we've fine-tuned what that amount should be. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which sets standards for fluoride in drinking water, now recommends to utilities that fluoridate water to do so at a ratio of 0.7 mg of fluoride to 1 liter of water. This miniscule amount is even lower than previous recommendations.
The bottom line: Fluoride can have an immense impact on your family's dental health—and it doesn't take much. Excessive amounts, though, can lead to dental staining, so it's prudent to monitor your intake. That means speaking with your dentist about the prevalence of fluoride in your area (including your drinking water) and whether you need to take measures to reduce (or expand) your use of it.
If you would like more information on how best fluoride benefits your family's 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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.”
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