As part of his "New Frontier," President Kennedy greatly expanded the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Sixty years later, it's still going strong—now as the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN)—supporting physical activity and nutrition initiatives for better health. That would also include your mouth: Healthy teeth and gums are an important part of a healthy body.
The PCSFN designates each May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month to spotlight the important role sports and exercise play in maintaining overall physical fitness. And what's good for the body is also generally good for your mouth.
But while you're out on the field or in the gym, there are some potential pitfalls to watch for that could create problems for your teeth and gums. Here are a few of them, and what you should do to avoid them.
Neglecting oral hygiene. As spring weather warms up, many of us are eager to rush out the door for exercise and other physical activities. But don't leave before taking care of one important item—brushing and flossing your teeth. These hygiene tasks clean your teeth of dental plaque, the thin bacterial film most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque should be removed daily, so take the time to brush and floss before you kick off your busy day.
Sports drinks. A quick scan around sports or fitness venues and you're likely to see plenty of sports drinks in attendance. Although marketed as a fluid and nutrient replacement after physical exertion, most sports drinks also contain sugar and acid, two ingredients that could harm your teeth. Try not to constantly sip on sports drink, but drink a serving all at one time (preferably with a meal). Better yet, unless your physical activity is especially strenuous or prolonged, opt instead for water, nature's original hydrator.
Blunt force contact. A pickup basketball game is a great form of physical exercise. But a split-second blow to the face could damage your teeth and gums to such extent that it could impact your dental health for years to come. If you're a regular participant in a contact sport, wearing a mouthguard will significantly lower your risk for oral injuries. And for the best comfort and protection, have us fit you with a custom-made mouthguard—it could be a wise investment.
Our bodies (and minds) need regular physical activity to stay healthy—so by all means, get out there and get moving. Just be sure you're also looking out for your teeth and gums, so they'll stay as healthy as the rest of your body.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health during physical activity, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Think Before You Drink” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Emma Roberts, star of American Horror Story (and niece of actress Julia Roberts), welcomed her first child at the end of 2020. She confessed that her love of sweets made pregnancy challenging. She couldn't get enough of cupcakes with sprinkles and a Salt & Straw ice cream flavor called The Great Candycopia. But Roberts isn't unique. Hormonal changes in pregnancy often bring heightened cravings for certain foods. Unfortunately, this can increase an expectant mother's risk for dental disease, especially if they're consuming more sugary foods.
In fact, around four in ten expectant women will develop a form of periodontal disease called pregnancy gingivitis. It begins with dental plaque, a thin film that forms on tooth surfaces filled with oral bacteria that can infect the gums. And what do these bacteria love to eat? Yep—sugar, the same thing many women crave during pregnancy.
So, if you're expecting a baby, what can you do to minimize your risk for dental disease?
Practice oral hygiene. Removing dental plaque by brushing and flossing daily is the most important thing you can do personally to prevent both tooth decay and gum disease. It's even more important given the physical and hormonal changes that occur when you're pregnant. Be sure, then, that you're diligent about brushing and flossing every day without fail.
Control your sugar intake. If you have strong cravings for sweets, cutting back may be about as easy as stopping an elephant on a rampage through the jungle. But do give your best effort to eating more dairy- and protein-rich foods rather than refined carbohydrates like pastries or candies. Not only will reducing sugar help you avoid dental disease, these other foods will help strengthen your teeth.
Maintain regular dental visits. Seeing us for regular cleanings further reduces your disease risk. We can clean your teeth of any plaque deposits you might have missed, especially hardened plaque called tartar that's nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing. We'll also monitor your teeth and gums for any developing disease that requires further treatment.
Undergo needed treatments. Concerned for their baby's safety, many expectant mothers are hesitant about undergoing dental procedures. But both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Dental Association endorse necessary dental treatments during pregnancy, even if they include local anesthesia. We will make you have only a safe type of anesthesia, and we can advise you when it is prudent to postpone certain treatments, such as some elective procedures, until after the baby is born.
Emma Roberts got through a healthy pregnancy—cravings and all—and is now enjoying her new baby boy. Whether you're a celebrity like Emma Roberts or not, expecting a baby is an exciting life moment. Follow these tips to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your pregnancy, and be sure to let the dental team know of your pregnancy before any treatment.If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Tooth decay is perhaps the biggest danger your child's teeth can face. Not only can it rob them of primary teeth now, but the loss of teeth at this early age could also lead to future bite problems.
That's why it's important to reduce the risk of tooth decay through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. You child may also benefit from another measure that enhances those other hygiene efforts—topical fluoride applied directly to tooth surfaces.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical that's been demonstrated to strengthen tooth enamel against contact with acid, the main cause of tooth decay. Today, fluoride is added not only to toothpastes and other dental hygiene products, but also in minute amounts to drinking water supplies across the country.
Even if your child takes in fluoride through one or more of these sources, there may still be a benefit to a topical application. For one, topical applications are usually stronger than fluoride toothpaste or fluoridated water supplies and can have greater effect. And because fluoridated water is ingested first before traveling through the bloodstream to the teeth, directly applied fluoride can strengthen them much faster.
But are these stronger concentrations of topical fluoride safe? Studies have shown no long-term health risk, but there can be temporary side effects like stomach pain, vomiting or headaches if the patient accidently swallows too much of the solution during the application. These side effects, however, can be minimized through safety measures dentists put in place during the procedure.
One study by the Cochrane Oral Health Research Group seems to show that the long-term benefit of topical fluoride is well worth this minor risk of side effects. After reviewing several scientific studies involving thousands of patients, the group found an overall 28% reduction in decayed, filled or missing teeth over a number of years among those who received a topical fluoride treatment.
Because of these and other forms of evidence, fluoride applications in either gel, foam or varnish forms have become a routine part of preventive care for children. Discussing it with your dentist, you may find it could be an extra weapon for your child in fighting tooth decay.
If you would like more information on how to protect your child's teeth from 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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