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Posts for tag: tooth decay

By Laura Elliff, DMD
April 02, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay   sugar  
TooMuchSugarCanWreckMoreThanYourTeeth

You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.

That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.

What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.

This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.

But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.

In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.

If you would like more information on sugar and your health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

FactorsBesidesOralHygienethatInfluenceYourRiskforToothDecay

Tooth decay is one of the world's most prevalent diseases — and one of the most preventable. We've known the primary prevention recipe for decades: brushing and flossing daily, and dental cleanings and checkups at least twice a year.

But consistent oral hygiene isn't enough — you should also pay attention to your overall health, diet and lifestyle habits. Each of these areas in their own way can contribute to abnormally high mouth acid, which can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.

Lower saliva production is one such problem that can arise due to issues with your health. Among its many properties, saliva neutralizes acid and helps maintain the mouth's optimum neutral pH level. But some health conditions or medications can reduce saliva flow: less saliva means less neutralization and chronic acidity.

You can also inhibit saliva flow with one particular lifestyle habit — smoking. Tobacco smoke can damage salivary glands. Nicotine, tobacco's active ingredient, constricts blood vessels, leading to fewer antibodies delivered by the blood stream to mouth tissues to fight disease.

A diet heavy on acidic foods and beverages can also increase mouth acidity. It's not only what you're eating or drinking — it's also how often. If you're constantly snacking or sipping on something acidic, saliva doesn't have a chance to complete the neutralizing process.

In addition to your daily oral hygiene practice, you should also make changes in these other areas to further lower your risk of tooth decay. If you're taking medications that cause dry mouth, see if your doctor can prescribe a different one or try using products that stimulate saliva. Quit smoking, of course, as much for your mouth as for the rest of your health.

On the dietary front, reduce your intake of acidic foods and beverages, especially sodas, energy or sports drinks. If you've counted on the latter for hydration, switch to water instead. And limit acidic foods to mealtime rather than throughout the day.

It's all about maintaining a healthy pH level in your mouth. Doing so along with good oral hygiene will help you better avoid destructive tooth decay.

If you would like more information on preventing 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.”

PreventingDecayinPrimaryTeethPromisesBetterHealthNowandLater

True or false: there’s no cause for concern about tooth decay until your child’s permanent teeth erupt.

False—decayed primary teeth can lead to potentially serious consequences later in life.

Although “baby” teeth last only a few years, they’re essential to future dental health because they act as placeholders and guides for the incoming permanent teeth. If they’re lost prematurely due to decay, other teeth may drift into the empty space intended for the emerging permanent tooth. Because of this, inadequate space will crowd the out of proper alignment.

And because they have thinner enamel than permanent teeth, primary teeth are more susceptible to decay. Once decay sets in, it can spread rapidly in a matter of months.

Fortunately, we may be able to prevent this from happening to your child’s primary teeth with a few simple guidelines. It all begins with understanding the underlying causes of tooth decay.

Tooth decay begins with bacteria: As a result of their digestion, these microorganisms secrete acid that at high levels can erode tooth enamel. The higher the population of bacteria in the mouth, the higher the acidity and potential threat to the teeth.

The first objective then in preventing decay is to remove dental plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces, through daily brushing and flossing. And because bacteria feed on sugar as a primary food source, you should reduce your child’s sugar consumption by restricting it to only meal times and not sending your child to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula or breast milk).

To help boost your child’s protection, we can also apply sealants and fluoride to teeth to help protect and strengthen their enamel from acid attack. Because we’ll also monitor for signs of decay, it’s important to begin regular dental visits beginning around age one. If we do detect decay, we can then treat it and make every effort to preserve your child’s primary teeth until they’ve completed their normal life cycle.

By taking these steps, we can help make sure your child’s early teeth go the distance. Their current and future dental health will certainly benefit.

If you would like more information on 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?

By Laura Elliff, DMD
August 06, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay   sugar  
IncludeLimitationsonSugarinYourToothDecayPreventionStrategy

We’ve waged war for decades against tooth decay through oral hygiene and the increasing use of fluoride, nature’s “super weapon” against this disease. And yet, tooth decay remains a significant health problem.

One major reason is refined sugar found in many processed foods. In the 1970s researchers raised concerns about the fat content of many processed foods, so manufacturers began removing fat from their products — along with much of the flavor. To compensate, they added sugar. Today, three-quarters of approximately 600,000 food products contain sugar.

This has increased average individual consumption to 90 pounds of sugar annually. The World Health Organization says we should consume no more than 20 pounds annually, or about 6 teaspoons a day. A single can of soda contains 4 teaspoons, two-thirds of the daily allowance.

High sugar consumption is an obvious threat to dental health: decay-causing bacteria thrive on it. But the trend has also been linked to serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Hopefully, changes in public policy will one day modify the addition of sugar in processed foods. In the meantime, you can take action for yourself and your family to create a more healthy relationship with this popular carbohydrate.

Shop wisely. Learn to read and understand food labels: steer clear of those containing sugar or large numbers of ingredients. Become acquainted with sugar’s many other “names” like corn syrup or evaporated cane juice. And maximize your shopping on a store’s outer perimeters where you’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products, rather than the middle aisles with “boxed” processed items.

Avoid sugar-added drinks. Limit consumption of sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas or even juice to avoid added sugar. Make water or sugar-free beverages your go-to drinks. It’s much better to eat sugar naturally found in fresh fruits and vegetables, where fiber helps slow it’s absorption in the body, than to drink it.

Exercise. Depending on your condition, physical exertion is good for your overall health. It’s especially beneficial for your body’s ability to metabolize sugar. So with your doctor’s advice, exert your body every day.

It’s important to engender a proper relationship with sugar — a little can go a long way. Putting sugar in its rightful place can help you avoid tooth decay and increase your chances of greater overall health.

If you would like more information on sugar’s impact on dental and general 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”

EvenAll-NaturalFruitJuiceCouldIncreasetheRiskofToothDecay

All-natural fruit juice with no additives: now what could be wrong with that? Nothing—unless your child is over-indulging. Too much of even natural fruit juice could increase their risk of tooth decay.

To understand why, we first need to look at the real culprit in tooth decay: mouth acid produced by oral bacteria as a byproduct of their digestion of sugar. Acid at high levels softens and erodes tooth enamel, which causes tooth decay. Acid levels can rise as populations of bacteria increase often fueled by sugar, one of bacteria's primary food sources.

And not just the added sugar found in soft drinks, snacks or candies—even fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, can feed bacteria. To lower the risk of tooth decay, dentists recommend limiting the daily amount of sugar a child consumes, including natural fruit juices without added sugar.

That doesn't mean you should nix natural fruit juices altogether—they remain a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. But you'll need to keep your child's juice consumption within moderation.

As a guide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued consumption recommendations for children regarding all-natural fruit juice. The academy recommends the following daily juice amounts by age:

  1. 7-18: 8 ounces (1 cup) or less;
  2. 4-6: 6 ounces or less;
  3. 1-3: 4 ounces or less;
  4. Under 1: No juice at all.

You can further reduce your child's decay risk by limiting their juice intake to mealtimes, a good practice with any sweetened beverage. Sipping through the day on juice or other sweetened beverages can cause some sugar to stay in the mouth over long periods. This can interfere with the natural ability of saliva to neutralize any acid buildup.

If you're wondering what children could drink instead of juice, low-fat or non-fat milk is an acceptable choice. But the most tooth-friendly liquid to drink is plain water. Drinking nature's hydrator is not only better for their overall health, by reducing the risk of tooth decay, it's also better for their teeth.

If you would like more information on how sugar can affect your child'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 “Squeeze Out the Juice.”