Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Fluoride is an important part of your child's dental development. But if children take in too much of this important mineral, they could experience enamel fluorosis, a condition in which teeth become discolored with dark streaking or mottling.
That's why it's important to keep fluoride levels within safe bounds, especially for children under the age of 9. To do that, here's a look at the most common sources for fluoride your child may take in and how you can moderate them.
Toothpaste. Fluoridated toothpaste is an effective way for your child to receive the benefits of fluoride. But to make sure they're not getting too much, apply only a smear of toothpaste to the brush for infants. When they get a little older you can increase that to a pea-sized amount on the end of the brush. You should also train your child not to swallow toothpaste.
Drinking water. Most water systems add tiny amounts of fluoride to drinking water. To find out how much your water provider adds visit “My Water's Fluoride” (//nccd.cdc.gov/doh_mwf/Default/Default.aspx) online. If it's more than the government's recommendation of 0.70 parts of fluoride per million parts of water, you may want ask your dentist if you should limit your child's consumption of fluoridated drinking water.
Infant formula. Many parents choose bottle-feeding their baby with infant formula rather than breastfeed. If you use the powdered form and mix it with tap water that's fluoridated, your baby could be ingesting more of the mineral. If breastfeeding isn't an option, try using the premixed formula, which normally contains lower levels of fluoride. If you use powdered formula, mix it with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
It might seem like the better strategy for preventing fluorosis is to avoid fluoride altogether. But that can increase the risk of tooth decay, a far more destructive outcome for your child's teeth than the appearance problems caused by fluorosis. The better way is to consult with your dentist on keeping your child's intake within recognized limits to safely receive fluoride's benefits of stronger, healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your baby'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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Being a parent can be a rewarding role. But it's also hard work, especially the effort required in keeping children healthy. In that respect, there's one area you don't want to overlook—their dental health.
Taking care of their teeth and gums has two aspects: their current state of dental health and their ongoing development that impacts future health. Fortunately, you can address both the present and the future by focusing on the following areas.
Prioritizing oral hygiene. From the moment your child is born, you'll want to practice daily oral hygiene to keep their teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. This starts even before teeth erupt—simply wipe their gums with a clean wet cloth after feeding. As teeth emerge, begin brushing each one with a small amount of toothpaste. Around your child's second birthday, start training them to brush and floss on their own.
Limit their sugar intake. The biggest threat to your child's teeth is tooth decay, which is caused by bacteria. These bacteria multiply when they have plenty of sugar available in the mouth, one of their primary food sources. It's important then to reduce the sugar they eat and limit it to mealtimes if possible. Also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with sweetened liquids, including juices and even formula.
Visit the dentist. You're not in this alone—your dentist is your partner for keeping your child's teeth healthy and developing properly. So, begin regular visits when your child's first teeth appear (no later than their first birthday). You should also consider having your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to make sure their bite is developing properly.
Practice oral safety. Over half the dental injuries in children under 7 occur in home settings around furniture. As your child is learning to walk, be aware of things in your home environment like tables and chairs, or hard objects they can place in their mouths. Take action then to move these items or restrict your child's access to them.
Good habits in each of these areas can make it easier to keep your child's teeth and gums healthy and on the right developmental track. That means good dental health today that could carry on into adulthood.
If you would like more information on children'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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”
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