Our Dental Blog

Posts for tag: oral health

By Carol A. Cunningham, DDS
November 05, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
ThisNovemberBecomeaNon-Smoker

What does November make you think of? Pumpkins? Turkeys? Dry leaves and frosty mornings? How about cigarette butts?

If you’re wondering about the last item, remember that November 15 is the date of the Great American Smokeout—a day set aside for those who want to take the first steps toward quitting the tobacco habit. While the percentage of smokers in the U.S. has dropped to less than 16% in recent years, according to the American Cancer Society there are still some 38 million Americans who smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes over 480,000 deaths every year, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Even if it doesn’t kill you, the effects of tobacco use can be devastating to your entire body—including your mouth. Whether you smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco, your risk of oral cancer is greatly increased, as is your chance of developing periodontal (gum) disease. What’s more, smoking can mask the symptoms of gum disease, so your condition is actually worse than it appears. Severe gum disease is one reason why smokers tend to lose more teeth than non-smokers.

In addition, because smoking interferes with the natural healing process, smokers have a much greater chance of dental implant failure. Tobacco use also can lead to increased amounts of plaque, which results in tooth decay and other oral health problems. It also stains your teeth, reduces your senses of smell and taste, and gives you bad breath.

Ready to quit yet? If so, there are lots of resources to help you on the road to a healthier life. The American Cancer Society, sponsor of the Smokeout, can help you make a plan to quit tobacco—and stay off it. It’s not easy, but over a million Americans do it every year. See their website for more information, plans and tips on quitting. Your health care professionals are also a great source of information and help when it’s time to get off the tobacco habit. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have.

And here’s the good news: The moment you quit, your body begins to recover from the effects of tobacco use. In just one year, you’ll have cut your risk of heart attack and stroke in half. After 5 to 15 years, your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and several other conditions is the same as someone who has never smoked.

If you have questions about smoking and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Dental Implants and Smoking.”

By Carol A. Cunningham, DDS
April 01, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   smoking  
4TipstoHelpyouQuittheSmokingHabit

It’s been widely established for decades that cigarette smoking contributes to cancer and heart disease. But did you know smoking will also increase your risk of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, as well as nuisance problems like tooth staining, bad breath and diminished taste perception?

Its effects on your teeth and mouth are all the more reason to quit smoking. But deciding and following through are two different things: many smokers find it painfully difficult to quit due to their addiction to nicotine, tobacco’s active ingredient.

But while difficult, it can be done. Here are 4 tips to help you follow through on your decision to quit smoking.

Change Your Response to Stress. Cigarette smoking is closely tied to the pleasure and reward areas of your brain. With its “hit” of nicotine, you sub-consciously identify smoking as a way to relieve the unpleasant feelings of stress. Instead, substitute other stress relievers when it occurs: going for a walk, talking to a friend or taking a few deep breaths. In time, this substitution will wear down the trigger response to stress you’ve developed with smoking.

Gradually Reduce Nicotine. You don’t have to quit abruptly or “cold turkey”: over the course of a few weeks, try switching to brands with decreasing levels of nicotine. Each week change to a brand with 0.2-0.4 milligrams less nicotine yield than the brand you were smoking the previous week. When you reach the lowest nicotine yield you can find, begin reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. You can find a list of nicotine yields by brand at www.erowid.org/plants/tobacco/tobacco_nic.shtml.

Quitting Loves Company. While you’re responsible for quitting, you may also benefit from the support of others. Usually eight to ten weeks of peer group sessions, a cessation support group provides instruction and ample structure with others engaged in the same struggle. You can usually locate one of these support groups by asking your healthcare provider.

Talk to Your Doctor or Dentist. Next to you or your family, no one wants you to quit more than we do! We can provide you information, treatment and encouragement as you take this big step toward improving your life and health.

If you would like more information on how to quit smoking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic and more tips for quitting by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.”

By Carol A. Cunningham, DDS
October 17, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
UseSweetenerSubstitutesWiselytoReduceSugarinYourDiet

Although a variety of foods provide energy-producing carbohydrates, sugar is among the most popular. It’s believed we universally crave sugar because of the quick energy boost after eating it, or that it also causes a release in our brains of serotonin endorphins, chemicals which relax us and make us feel good.

But there is a downside to refined sugars like table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup: too much in our diets contributes to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dental disease. On the latter, sugar is a primary food source for oral bacteria; the more sugar available in the mouth the higher the levels of bacteria that lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Moderating your intake of refined sugars and other carbohydrates can be hard to do, given that many processed foods contain various forms of refined sugar. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables helps control sugar intake as well as contribute to overall health. Many people also turn to a variety of sugar substitutes: one study found roughly 85% of Americans use some form of it in place of sugar. They’re also being added to many processed foods: unless you’re checking ingredients labels, you may be consuming them unknowingly.

Sugar substitutes are generally either artificial, manufactured products like saccharin or aspartame or extractions from natural substances like stevia or sorbitol. The good news concerning your teeth and gums is that all the major sugar substitutes don’t encourage bacterial growth. Still, while they’re generally safe for consumption, each has varying properties and may have side-effects for certain people. For example, people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic condition, can’t process aspartame properly and should avoid it.

One alcohol-based sweetener in particular is of interest in oral care. A number of studies indicate xylitol may actually inhibit bacterial growth and thus reduce the risk of tooth decay. You can find xylitol in a variety of gum and mint products.

When considering what sugar substitutes to use, be sure you’re up to date on their potential health effects for certain individuals, as well as check the ingredients labels of processed foods for added sweeteners. As your dentist, we’ll also be glad to advise you on strategies to reduce sugar in your diet and promote better dental health.

If you would like more information on your best options for sweeteners, 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.”

By Carol A. Cunningham, DDS
July 26, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   bacteria  
NotAllBacteriaareHarmfultoOralHealth

Most people associate bacteria with disease and ill health. But the real story about the trillions of microscopic organisms now living in and on your body is a bit more complicated. With recent advances in genetic code research scientists are learning that many of these microorganisms you’re hosting are actually beneficial for you — including your teeth and gums.

Beginning at birth and throughout your lifetime you are continually developing a distinct microbiome — actual communities of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit your body. As your microbiome develops it helps train your immune system to distinguish between “good” bacteria that help with digestion and other bodily processes and “bad” bacteria that cause disease.  And it continually adapts to changes in what we eat, the pets we acquire or the drugs we take.

But lifestyle choices like diet can also have a detrimental effect, causing harmful bacteria to become dominant. This seems to be the case with Streptococcus mutans, the bacterial strain most associated with tooth decay. Scientists have analyzed biofilm (plaque deposits on teeth) from the pre-industrial era before 1900 and compared it with modern biofilm samples. They’ve found Streptococcus mutans levels to be much higher in modern biofilm, which they directly attribute to the modern Western diet.

As we gain a better understanding of these findings and of the role of bacteria in our lives, it could change many health recommendations not only about diet but about medications too. In the fight against disease, for example, we’ve used antibiotics to eradicate infection-causing microorganisms, but with a broad destructive ability that can also kill many beneficial strains of bacteria. It’s hoped as our knowledge grows we’ll be able to create newer drugs that more narrowly target harmful microorganisms while not affecting beneficial ones.

There’s a new appreciation emerging for bacteria’s role in our lives. As a result efforts to rebalance a person’s microbiome when they become sick may eventually become a critical element in healthcare treatment strategies. The benefits of this strategy for health, including for our teeth and gums, could be quite impressive.

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 Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”

By Carol A. Cunningham, DDS
June 26, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   shingles  
BesidesYourHealthShinglesCouldAffectYourDentalCare

If you had chicken pox as a child, you're at higher risk for a painful viral infection later in life called shingles. Besides a painful skin rash and other symptoms that can develop, shingles could also affect your dental care.

About 90% of children contract chicken pox, a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which usually clears up on its own. But later in life, usually after age 50, about a quarter to a third of chicken pox patients will develop shingles.

The onset of shingles usually produces an itching or burning sensation on the skin that's either numb or overly sensitive to the touch. A red rash may ensue with crusty lesions, accompanied sometimes by pain, fever and fatigue. The rash often forms a belt-like or striped pattern along one side of the face or body.

For most patients this painful rash is the extent of their symptoms. But women who are pregnant, patients undergoing cancer treatment or people with compromised immune systems are at risk for more serious complications if they contract the disease. It's important for these at-risk patients to obtain a vaccination, as well as avoid contact with anyone with shingles.

Which brings us to your dental care: in its early stages shingles can be contagious, the virus passing to others through skin contact or by airborne respiratory secretions. That's why it's important if you're currently experiencing a shingles episode that you let us know before undergoing any kind of dental work.  Even a routine teeth cleaning with an ultrasonic device could disrupt the virus and increase the chances of it spreading to someone else. We may need to postpone dental work until the virus is under control.

Antiviral drugs like acyclovir or famciclovir are highly effective in bringing the disease under control, especially if treatment starts within three days of the onset of symptoms. And don't forget the shingles vaccination: the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends it for anyone 60 or older regardless of a past history with chicken pox.

See your physician as soon as possible if you begin to notice symptoms. Don't let shingles interfere with your life — or your dental care.

If you would like more information on the impact of shingles and similar viruses on dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.