Mind & Body
Dental Health for any Age
2/1/2020 1:00:00 PM
Dental Health

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, but dental health is important for everyone, no matter your age. While oral hygiene is obviously essential for your teeth and gums, you should know that good dental care can affect the health of your whole body. In this special section, you’ll read about how taking care of your teeth can benefit your overall health. You’ll also find stories on correcting bad bites, caring for kids’ teeth, and the importance of eating crunchy foods for good dental health.

Gum Disease can Take a Bite out of your Health

by Kristy Como Armand

When people think about poor oral hygiene, problems like decaying teeth, bleeding gums and bad breath typically come to mind. But an unhealthy, bacteria-filled mouth can not only cause oral health problems, but may lead to serious health problems in other parts of the body, including heart disease, diabetes, blood infection and even low birth-weight babies. In fact, a growing body of research is finding that gum disease, also called periodontal disease, can be a contributing factor to a wide array of health problems.

Gum disease ranges from gingivitis, a mild and common form that causes inflammation of tissues around the teeth, to more serious forms like periodontitis, where the inflammation affects the connective tissue supporting the teeth. It’s estimated that half of Americans over the age of 30 have periodontitis, and it’s the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.

"When someone has gum disease, they are basically suffering from a chronic, low-grade infection,” says Harry Castle, DDS, with Oak Park Dental. "This means the entire immune system is weakened and the whole body is at higher risk as a result.” 

Dr. Castle explains that gum disease is believed to contribute to the disease process in other parts of the body through the bloodstream. "Bacteria from the mouth can enter into the circulatory system and travel to other parts of the body, causing widespread inflammation. Another possibility is that oral infections trigger the immune system, producing inflammation elsewhere in the body.”

Recent studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease and stroke in people with gum infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk appears to increase with the severity of the infection.  

There also appears to be a link between gum infections and diabetes. Research has found that people with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease, according to the CDC. Researchers are now looking into whether there’s a two-way connection between the conditions to see if diabetes can be better controlled through treatment of gum disease.

Blood infection from gum disease can even cause joint replacements to fail by aiding the body’s efforts to reject the artificial implant. Other researchers have found that women with moderate-to-serious gum disease are twice as likely to give birth to premature babies. Problems ranging from low birth-weight to birth defects can result.

Because of the increasing evidence linking gum disease to other health problems, Dr. Castle says it is becoming routine for physicians to recommend a dental exam before certain medical procedures, such as heart valve surgery, joint replacement and many other invasive tests and treatments. "If gum disease or any oral health concern is detected, this should be treated before clearance is given for the medical procedure. This safeguard helps prevent bacteria related to gum disease from becoming a complication in the medical procedure.”  

To prevent gum disease and all the health risks now known to be linked to the condition, Dr. Castle says regular and thorough brushing and flossing is critical.  A good diet that avoids sugary snacks and sodas is another key preventive measure.  

Dr. Castle says to make sure you drink fluoridated water and use a fluoride toothpaste. "With the popularity of bottled water, many people miss out on one of the best sources they have for preventing tooth decay.” 

In case you needed one more reason to avoid tobacco, smokers have seven times the risk of developing gum disease than non-smokers. Drinking alcohol is also a big risk factor for gum disease. 

Finally, Dr. Castle says visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleaning can help with early detection of oral health problems and lead to treatment that can prevent further damage and lower associated health risks. 

For more information about the prevention and treatment of gum disease, call Oak Park Dental at 478-3232 or visit www.oakparkdental.com. 

Preventing Tooth Decay in Children

by Malloree Lavergne

When it comes to preventing tooth decay and cavities in children, parents may ask themselves … 

What foods and drinks should we avoid to prevent cavities?

How do I know if I’m brushing their teeth well enough? 

What are the symptoms of tooth decay? 

When should I take my child to the dentist?

To answer these questions, we must first learn about tooth decay, what causes it, and how to prevent it.

Each day, your child’s mouth experiences an internal war. On one side, there are harmful bacteria (plaque), sugars, and starches. On the other, there's saliva and fluoride

(from toothpaste and/or water).

When your child has, say, a sugary apple juice, the harmful bacteria in his or her mouth takes those sugars and turns them into acids that eat away at the enamel, the tooth’s hard outer layer. At this point, the minerals in your child’s saliva, such as calcium and phosphate, and the fluoride from toothpaste and water will work hard to help the enamel repair itself and replace the minerals lost from the acid. 

So how does tooth decay occur? It’s a process that happens over time. When your child drinks or eats sugary or starchy foods often, such as milk, bread, candy or fruit juice, he or she can be exposed to acid "attacks” to the enamel repeatedly, causing the enamel to continually lose minerals. The most common sign of early decay is a white spot on the tooth where the minerals have been lost.

If not stopped, the acid can continue to eat away at the enamel until it’s weakened or destroyed, forming a cavity. 

How do I prevent my child from getting a cavity?

Use fluoride. 

Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent and replace lost minerals, make it harder for bacteria to produce acids, and even reverse early tooth decay. Some easy ways for your child to get fluoride are drinking fluoridated water through a community water supply, using a fluoride toothpaste (when he or she is old enough) or visiting the dentist for special treatments such as a fluoride gel or varnish.

Make good brushing a habit. 

Brush your child’s teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. For children age three to six, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. After brushing, encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out instead of swallowing it. Assist your children in brushing until they are about seven or eight years old.

Watch what your child eats.

Limit between-meal snacks and fruit juice, and offer candy, cookies, and soda only for special occasions to help prevent tooth decay. Also, make sure your child doesn’t consume anything with sugar in it after bedtime brushing. Because saliva flow decreases during sleep, teeth are more vulnerable to bacteria and acids.

Discuss sealants with your dentist. 

Sealants can be a great way to prevent cavities. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted onto the molars that can help reduce bacteria and food buildup in the rough chewing spaces of those teeth. Sealants act as a barrier between the two, since those surfaces can be hard to clean with a toothbrush. 

It’s recommended that children get sealants as soon as their molars come in, since this is where most cavities develop. The first permanent molars come in between age five and seven, and the second ones come in between 11 and 14.

Schedule regular dental check-ups for your child.

During a visit to the dentist, the dentist or hygienist can help your child by removing any plaque, checking for signs of early tooth decay, showing him or her how to properly brush, and giving him or her a fluoride treatment if necessary. Schedule regular checkups to ensure your child’s mouth is being monitored and treated for any sign of tooth decay.

For more information or to make an appointment, call Robinson Dental at 337-474-3636.

Orthodontics Provide Best Option for Bad Bites

by Kristy Como Armand

Ironically, one of the most common dental disorders is also the most neglected. Your bite, the way the teeth fit together when the jaw closes and chews, has a major impact on the long-term health of your teeth. 

"Many people’s teeth have some irregularity, from slight crowding to uneven spacing. The technical name for this is ‘malocclusion,’ but this is commonly called a ‘bad bite.’” explains Craig Crawford, DDS, with Crawford Orthodontics. "Certain irregularities can cause cosmetic concerns, as well as functional problems, such as difficulty chewing or talking. You may have inherited a bite irregularity, but not all bite problems are genetic.”

Other factors can contribute to the development of bite problems. One of these is trauma. When teeth are fractured or knocked out and then replaced, they may fuse with the bone that surrounds them. If this happens in a growing child, Dr. Crawford says the teeth will not be able to line up properly in the jaw, causing an irregular bite. 

If a primary, or "baby,” tooth is lost too early, the permanent tooth loses its guide and may come into the mouth incorrectly. "In some cases, the permanent teeth may be crowded, or they may come in only partially,” says Dr. Crawford. "The teeth next to the primary tooth that was lost too early can also move or tilt into the space left by the missing tooth and prevent the permanent tooth from coming in.”

Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use can cause a bite irregularity, such as a pronounced protrusion of the upper teeth over your lower teeth. A tongue-thrusting habit when you swallow can cause a similar problem. 

Incorrect bites are grouped into categories. Common bite irregularities include: 

Crowding: Occurs if there is not enough room for the teeth, if the teeth are unusually large compared to the size of the dental arch, or if the jaw is narrower than it should be. Permanent teeth may not have enough space to move into the right position.

Crossbite: The upper teeth seat significantly inside or outside the lower teeth. A crossbite often requires orthodontic treatment because this problem can make it difficult to bite or chew. 

Deep overbite: Occurs when the upper front teeth overlap excessively over the lower teeth. 

Underbite: A crossbite of the front teeth is commonly referred to as an underbite where the lower teeth are ahead of the upper teeth. 

Open bite: Occurs when the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet when you bite down. Because the front teeth don’t share equally in the biting force, the back teeth may be subjected to too much pressure. 

Spacing problems: Some people have missing teeth or unusually small teeth compared to the size of their dental arch. If the size of the jaw is normal, this can result in large spaces between the teeth. 

Dr. Crawford says everyone has a slightly different bite, so orthodontic treatment techniques vary. Braces, the most common approach, help to move the teeth slowly by applying precise amounts of light pressure over a period of time, and retaining the alignment with the use of a retainer. In addition to braces, orthodontists sometimes use special appliances to direct the growth of the jaw in young children.

"The main reason people come in for bite problems is for cosmetic concerns,” says Dr. Crawford.  "And while an improper bite can have a negative impact on your appearance, it’s important to realize that bite problems can lead to other oral dental problems. An improper bite causes difficulty chewing and can lead to more cavities in people with crowded teeth and early loss of teeth. Treatment of these bite irregularities can not only improve your appearance, but your overall oral health as well.”

For more information about orthodontic treatment options, call Crawford Orthodontics at (337) 478-7590.

Add Crunch to your Diet for Better Dental Health

by Stephanie Kestel Karpovs, M.C.D., CCC-SLP

Regular dental check-ups, eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water to promote strong teeth and gums establish an early pattern of wellness. Introducing healthy feeding habits, which include chewing practice, can set young mouths up for a lifetime of success and get the most miles out of those precious smiles. 

Healthy Baby Teeth are Important

Keeping baby teeth healthy not only saves space for permanent teeth but also assists children to speak and eat properly. According to pediatric dentist Dr. Eric Sanders, "The enamel on baby teeth is 50% thinner than permanent teeth so they are more susceptible to cavities.” Sugars, whether added or natural, are in all foods and drinks—except water. Freshly pressed juices and plant-based smoothies can be a wonderful way to add extra fruits and vegetables to the diet, but we must ensure daily opportunities to chew. Digestion starts in the mouth—good saliva with good chewing practice helps to kick-start digestion and clear the sugary residue left behind.    

Crunchy Foods

Munching on hard, raw foods, especially vegetables, helps to scour the gums and teeth. It takes a lot of chewing to break down foods such as carrots, celery, apples and cucumbers. Sanders said, "Chewing may disturb dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria causing tooth decay), and serve as a cleansing mechanism. Instead of remaining in your mouth and settling on the teeth, the bacteria get cleared away.” Food pouches, while very convenient, do not help kids move past purees and don’t give opportunities for toddlers to experience chewing those foods. Save these for occasional use with a spoon.

An added benefit of crunchy foods is to help develop the jaw. The repetitive chewing force stimulates bone growth in the jaws – great news for growing mouths that need more space for permanent teeth. So, limit processed snacks and help your kids get crunching! Remember to get kids involved in prepping the foods – exposure often leads to tasting new treats.

Vitamins and Minerals

Eating a healthy diet full of various fruits, nuts, vegetables and omega-3 fats (to help absorb the nutrients) can also decrease the risk of dental decay. Foods containing calcium — such as cheese, almonds and leafy greens — and foods high in phosphorous — such as nuts, lentils, beans, eggs and fish — can help keep enamel strong and healthy. Dr. Sanders says, "Acidic foods and drinks may cause tiny lesions on tooth enamel. Calcium and phosphate help redeposit minerals back into those lesions.” Calcium is needed for good bone growth, including your jaw. Hummus (made from chickpeas and tahini paste) is also high in calcium and makes a great dip to compliment those crunchy veggies.  

Stephanie is a local speech-language pathologist/feeding therapist and wellness coach.  She enjoys helping families thrive.  

Healthy snack ideas for kids:

•  crunchy chickpeas or toasted edamame 

•  sliced red, yellow and orange peppers

•  apples and almond butter/sun butter

•  frozen peas or blueberries

•  toasted almond slices and roasted pumpkin seeds

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