Posts for: August, 2015
Barley malt, corn syrup, maltodextrin — these and over fifty other label ingredients are all names for refined sugar. Under its various aliases, this sweet carbohydrate is tucked away in three-quarters of packaged foods in the U.S.
Although in recent years the general health effects from too much sugar have gained the spotlight, its effect on dental health has been known for decades. Accumulated sugar in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
For both general and oral health, people have been looking to artificial alternatives to satisfy their sweet tooth. But do they have their own issues that can impact overall health? Here is an overview of some of the more popular brands of artificial sweeteners and their effect on health.
Saccharin — One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, saccharin is often used under the names Sweet’N Low or Sugar Twin in low-calorie foods because it contains no calories. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are no associated health risks with consuming saccharin in recommended servings.
Aspartame — used commonly in beverages as Equal or NutraSweet, aspartame is unsuitable for cooking because its chemical structure breaks down under high heat. Although generally safe for consumption, it can affect people with a rare condition known as phenylketonuria that can’t adequately break down its chemicals.
Sucralose — marketed as Splenda, this sweetener is made by chemically altering refined table sugar so the body can’t process it. This may be one reason it has the most recognized natural flavor profile among consumers and is a market leader. It’s stable at high temperatures, so it’s often used in cooked or baked goods.
Stevia/Erythritol — this combination of an extract from the extremely sweet herb stevia and the sugar alcohol erythritol is marketed as Truvia. Unlike other calorie-free artificial sweeteners, this and other alcohol-based sweeteners have a low calorie level due to sugar alcohol’s characteristic of slow and incomplete absorption during digestion.
Xylitol — although all the previously mentioned sweeteners won’t promote bacterial growth like refined sugar, the sugar alcohol xylitol — often added to chewing gum and mints — has an added benefit: it may actually reduce levels of bacteria most likely to cause decay.
If you would like more information on the effect of sweeteners on 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is an aggressive bacterial infection caused by built-up plaque on tooth surfaces. Gum disease results in bone loss and causes loss of attachment from the teeth, leading to eventual tooth loss.
The goal of any gum disease treatment is to remove as much plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) from the gums and teeth as possible. Scaling with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment is the basic technique for plaque and calculus removal above and below the gum line. As the infection spreads below the gum line, it can widen the natural gap between teeth and gums to form voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with infection. Accessing and cleaning these pockets, which can occur as deep as the tooth roots, will require more invasive procedures.
Pockets that form at a depth greater than 5 mm below the gum line will most likely require surgical access through the gum tissue. But for pockets not quite that deep there’s an intermediary technique called root planing without surgical intervention. As the name suggests, the roots are physically “planed,” much like shaving a wooden board to remove minute layers of wood.
Using similar instruments as with scaling, root planing removes calculus, bacteria and other infected matter adhering to the root surfaces. It’s best to perform the procedure with local anesthesia to numb the gum tissues, which may be quite sensitive depending on the degree of infection. Working in a pain-free environment also helps us to be as thorough as possible in detecting and removing every bit of plaque and calculus we can find.
In advanced cases, it may be necessary to perform this procedure during multiple visits. As plaque and calculus are removed the inflammation in affected tissues will begin to subside, revealing more deposits of plaque and calculus. It’s also important to begin and maintain a daily habit of effective brushing and flossing to lessen the chances of a recurring infection.
Treating gum disease is an ongoing effort that requires constant monitoring and sustained efforts to remove plaque and calculus, including root planing. Saving your teeth, however, is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal disease, 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 “Root Planing.”
If you’re taking medication to regulate your blood pressure, you may be familiar with some of the general side effects, like nausea, drowsiness or dizziness. But some blood pressure drugs might also cause complications with your oral health.
This is true of one class of drugs in particular used for blood pressure regulation. Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) are used to regulate blood pressure by dilating (relaxing) blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood. They’re often prescribed to patients who can’t tolerate beta blockers, another common blood pressure drug.
Besides other general side effects, CCBs can also cause gingival hyperplasia (gum overgrowth) and mouth dryness. The former condition occurs when the gum tissues grow and extend beyond their normal size over the teeth. Besides pain and discomfort, hyperplasia creates an abnormal appearance which can be embarrassing. Research findings also indicate that hyperplasia development from CCB use is also linked to poor hygiene habits, which give rise to periodontal (gum) disease.
Mouth dryness is defined as less than normal saliva flow. Besides discomfort, the condition may increase your risk of dental disease: saliva is a key part in keeping bacterial levels low and maintaining the mineral content of enamel. Inadequate saliva flow can’t maintain this balance, which increases the bacterial population in the mouth and the risk of infection leading to gum disease or tooth decay.
To avoid both of these side effects, it’s important first to let us know if you’re taking blood pressure medication and what kind. You may also need more frequent dental visits, especially if you’re displaying symptoms of dental disease. Studies have found that frequent dental visits to remove bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) may significantly reduce gum overgrowth in patients taking a CCB. You should also maintain a recommended daily regimen of oral hygiene (brushing and flossing).
Because of possible effects on your dental health from a number of drugs, it’s always important to let us know the medications you’re regularly taking. As with CCBs, we can incorporate that knowledge into your dental treatment to assure your safety and optimal oral health.
If you would like more information on managing your oral care while on medication, 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 “Blood Pressure Medications.”
For a healthy pregnancy, it helps to have healthy teeth and gums. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourages its members to advise expectant moms to see their dentist. But maintaining oral health can be more challenging when you’re expecting. For one thing, hormonal changes make you more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease, which has been linked to “systemic” (general body) health problems including preterm labor and low birth weight.
Periodontal (gum) disease results from the buildup of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces in the absence of good oral hygiene. It typically starts as gingivitis — inflammation and redness around the gum margins and bleeding when brushing and flossing. If the infection progresses, it can attack the structures supporting the teeth (gums, ligaments, and bone) and may eventually result in tooth loss. And if the infection enters the bloodstream, it can pose health risks elsewhere in the body. Studies suggest that oral bacteria and their byproducts are able to cross the placenta and trigger an inflammatory response in the mother, which may in turn induce early labor.
TLC for Your Oral Environment
Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing or using another interdental cleaner at least once daily is your first-line defense again bacteria buildup. Professional cleanings are also important to remove hardened plaque (calculus) that brushing and flossing may miss. And regular checkups can catch problems early to avoid or minimize adverse effects. Periodontal disease and tooth decay aren’t always painful or the pain may subside, so you won’t always know there’s a problem.
Dental emergencies such as cavities, root canals and tooth fractures should be treated promptly to address pain and infection, thereby reducing stress to the developing fetus. Of course, if you know you need a cavity filled or a root canal prior to becoming pregnant, that’s the optimal time to get treated!
If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”