Posts for tag: oral health
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.”
While it doesn’t garner the star power of blood, saliva is still an important bodily fluid. A true multi-tasker, saliva contributes in many ways to the function and health of the body, from stronger teeth to more efficient digestion.
Here are six ways saliva helps your mouth and body function properly and stay healthy.
The mouth’s natural cleanser. Bacteria are responsible for much of the dental disease that plagues us, particularly tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva clears the mouth of food remnants, bacteria’s primary feeding source, after we eat. This leaves a cleaner mouth and fewer bacteria to cause infection.
The immune system’s partner. Saliva contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA) that attacks disease-causing microorganisms. Along with secreting other antibacterial agents like lactoferrin and lyzozyme that curb the growth and development of bacteria, saliva serves as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens entering through the mouth.
Acid neutralizer. The optimal oral environment is a neutral pH of 7. Many of our foods and beverages, though, are highly acidic, which can raise the mouth’s acid level. The acidic environment causes the minerals in tooth enamel to soften and dissolve (a process called de-mineralization). Saliva restores the balance by neutralizing any remaining acid after we eat (a process that takes about 30 to 60 minutes).
Mineral replacer. Even under normal conditions, enamel will de-mineralize to some extent whenever the mouth becomes acidic. Saliva restores some of the enamel’s lost minerals like calcium and phosphate while it’s neutralizing acid. If fluoride is also present in saliva from fluoridated drinking water or toothpaste, it too is absorbed by the enamel making it stronger and more resistant to acid attacks.
Digestion enhancer. Saliva lubricates the mouth while we eat, making it easier for us to chew (and taste) our food. Saliva also releases the enzyme amylase as we chew to break down starches before the food enters our stomach. The end result is more efficient and comfortable digestion.
The wave of the future in diagnostics. Like blood and urine, saliva contains genetic and disease markers that could tell a physician if a patient has a certain condition. Since collecting a saliva sample is much easier than with these other bodily fluids, diagnosing disease with saliva will become more prevalent as more calibrated devices reach the market.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in the body, 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 “Saliva.”
Cancer treatment can consume all of your focus to the exclusion of other health issues. But these other issues still need attention, especially how treating cancer could affect other parts of your body. That definitely includes your teeth and gums.
Treatments like radiation or chemotherapy eradicate cancer cells disrupting their growth. Unfortunately, they may do the same to benign cells — “collateral damage,” so to speak. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the body, including in the mouth. Radiation, for example, could damage the salivary glands and result in reduced salivary flow. Because saliva neutralizes acid and diminishes bacterial growth, your risk for tooth decay as well as periodontal (gum) disease could increase.
While you may be able to recover from reduced salivary flow after treatment, your health could suffer in the meantime, even to the point of tooth and bone loss. Fortunately, there are some things we can do before and during your treatment.
If you can, have any necessary dental work performed well before you begin cancer treatment. You’ll be more resistant to side effects if you can start treatment with as healthy a mouth as possible.
Keep up your regular dental visits if at all possible, or see us if you begin seeing signs of dental disease. By staying on schedule, we’ll have a better chance of detecting and treating problems before they advance too far; we may also be able to provide preventive measures like topical fluoride applications to help keep your teeth resistant to disease. If you need more extensive treatment like tooth extraction or surgery we may need to coordinate with your cancer treatment provider.
Above all, continue to practice daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque, the main cause of dental disease. Drink plenty of water or take substances that boost salivation. And be sure to eat a nutritious diet while also reducing or eliminating tobacco or alcohol from your lifestyle.
Taking these steps will help protect your teeth and gums during cancer treatment. As a result, you have a better chance for maintaining your dental health during this critical time in your life.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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.”
While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy mouth, 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 “Saliva.”