Posts for tag: tooth decay
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
As a parent you’re always on the lookout for dangers to your toddler’s well-being: sharp corners on furniture, uneven walks or the occasional stomach bug. But a situation could be brewing in their mouth you might not be aware of until it’s become a full-blown problem.
The silent danger is tooth decay, which could be developing as early as infancy. Undiagnosed and untreated, it could ultimately cause premature loss of primary (“baby”) teeth with adverse effects on the eruption of incoming permanent teeth.
Tooth decay arises from certain strains of mouth bacteria, often passed down from parent to child. These bacteria produce acid as a byproduct after feeding on carbohydrates (especially sugars). The more food available, the more acid they produce. This wreaks havoc on tooth enamel, the teeth’s outer protective covering by softening and dissolving its mineral content. This gives decay an opening to infect the interior of a tooth.
Combine inadequate hygiene practices (especially brushing) with poor dietary habits, and you have the conditions for a perfect disease storm in your child’s mouth. That’s why you should begin oral hygiene as soon as you notice their first teeth. Wiping them with a clean, wet cloth is sufficient in the beginning, but you should start daily brushing (with fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen young enamel) by their first birthday.
You should also practice good dietary habits. For example, avoid giving an infant or toddler a bottle filled with juice, milk or formula to sleep with through the night — the constant sipping bathes the mouth in sugars bacteria feed on. Instead, use plain water.Â You should also focus on nutrition from the get-go to help build overall good health as well as strong teeth and gums.
As an added measure, begin regular dental visits by their first birthday. A checkup and cleaning every six months will help us detect early tooth decay and lessen its impact. We can also provide sealants and topical fluoride to give added protection against decay.
Catching and treating decay early before it gets too far is the best way to prevent early tooth loss. Your child’s future dental health might depend on it.
If you would like more information on your child’s dental care, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
Humanity has been waging war against tooth decay for millennia — with this relentless opponent often getting the better of us.
Over the last century, however, significant treatment advances have turned the tide of battle in our favor. Perhaps the greatest of these advancements is our deeper grasp of the disease process — new understandings that have altered our treatment strategy. Rather than wait for cavities to occur and then repair the damage, we now focus on stopping the damage from occurring in the first place.
Prevention starts by reducing factors that contribute to tooth decay. We can signify these detrimental factors with the acronym BAD:
Bad Bacteria. Millions of bacteria inhabit our mouths at any one time, but only a few strains produce the acid that causes decay. We want to reduce their population by removing dental plaque (where they feed and grow) through daily brushing and flossing, and, at a minimum, semi-annual office cleanings.
Absence of Saliva. This important fluid neutralizes acid and strengthens tooth enamel. Some people, however, suffer from reduced saliva flow. We want to find the cause (for example, a side effect of certain prescription drugs) and then improve saliva flow.
Dietary Habits. A diet heavy in sugar and acid (particularly sodas and soft drinks) gives bacteria a ready food source and increases the mouth’s acidic level. Chronic high acid levels in particular are often too great for normal saliva flow to overcome and neutralize. Reducing the amount and frequency of these food items creates a healthier oral environment.
Reducing BAD factors is only half of our prevention focus. We also want to promote SAFE factors that enhance tooth health and strength: Sealants, especially for children, that shield tooth surfaces from decay; Antimicrobial rinses that target and rid the mouth of acid-producing bacteria and give healthy bacteria room to develop; Fluoride, a proven enamel-strengthening chemical available in dental products, many drinking water systems and as a topical application in dental offices; and an Effective diet that’s rich in nutrients and low in sugar and acid as already mentioned.
Keeping the focus on reducing BAD factors and promoting SAFE factors will greatly increase your chances of personally winning the war against tooth decay.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of tooth decay, 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”