For over a century now, health providers have depended on blood and urine samples to diagnose many forms of disease. Very soon, though, we may routinely use a different bodily fluid that's easier and cheaper to collect: saliva.
Secreted by six hundred or more glands in the mouth, saliva performs a number of important functions for digestion and overall oral health. Saliva lubricates the mouth to make food easier to swallow. Its enzymes begin the digestion process breaking down food even before we swallow. It also helps wash out food particles that could build up as plaque on the teeth and harbor disease-causing bacteria.
In terms of dental health, its greatest role is as a neutralizer of food acid. It's natural after we eat for the acid levels in the mouth to rise above normal. If acid remains in contact with enamel for an extended period of time it can soften the enamel's minerals and make it easier for them to erode. Within thirty minutes to an hour after eating, saliva neutralizes acid and restores the mouth's normal pH level. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate materials, which helps restore some of the minerals the enamel may have lost from the acid contact.
But we're discovering saliva can do even more: we can now use it as an indicator for certain conditions in the body. Like blood or urine, saliva contains molecules that can serve as biological markers for different types of disease. By employing devices calibrated to detect these markers, we can use saliva to uncover cancer, diabetes or other systemic conditions.
As these particular devices are manufactured and become more available, the use of saliva for disease diagnosis will rise. In the future, you may not need a trip to the bathroom or wince at a needle stick — a swab of your saliva will do!
If you would like more information on saliva's role in your 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Your gums’ primary role is to protect your teeth and keep them firmly in place. But periodontal (gum) disease can damage your gums to such an extent you could ultimately lose your teeth.
Gum disease is a progressive infection caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces from poor oral hygiene. The initial infection triggers inflammation, a defensive response of the body characterized by swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums. An initial form of the disease known as gingivitis occurs in most people after just a few days without brushing or flossing.
Resuming hygienic activities to remove daily plaque, along with regular dental cleanings, may be enough to stop gingivitis and restore healthy gums. If the disease is allowed to advance, however, the infected gum tissues will begin to detach from the teeth, turning the slight normal gaps between teeth and gums into wider voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with bacteria leading to infection. Your hygiene efforts will not be enough to cope with this advanced form of periodontal disease.
At this point professional techniques are required to adequately remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), depending on the depth and location of the periodontal pockets. The most basic of these is scaling using specialized hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment to remove plaque and calculus in pockets at or just below the gum line. If plaque and calculus have extended to the roots we may then need to employ root planing, in which we “shave” offending material from root surfaces. In some cases this may require accessing the area surgically beneath the gum tissue.
As plaque removal progresses, inflammation will begin to subside and the gum tissues heal. If, however, swelling, bleeding or pus formation persists, this may indicate bacterial levels remain too high. To decrease these levels we may need to administer antibiotics, or through mouthrinses containing chlorhexidine.
Once under control, it’s crucial from then on for you to maintain a strict daily regimen of brushing and flossing to keep plaque from building up on tooth surfaces. You'll also need to visit us regularly (two or more times a year) for professional cleaning and checkups. Keeping a close eye will help prevent a reoccurrence of this serious disease and prolong the life of your teeth.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (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.”
Whether she’s singing, dancing or acting, Jennifer Lopez is a performer who is known for giving it all she’s got. But during one show, Lopez recently admitted, she gave a bit more then she had planned.
“I chipped my tooth on stage,” she told interviewers from Entertainment Tonight, “and had to finish the show….I went back thinking ‘Can I finish the show like this?’”
With that unlucky break, J-Lo joins a growing list of superstar singers—including Taylor Swift and Michael Buble—who have something in common: All have chipped their teeth on microphones while giving a performance.
But it’s not just celebs who have accidental dental trouble. Chips are among the most common dental injuries—and the front teeth, due to their position, are particularly susceptible. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible. But there are also a number of good ways to repair chipped, cracked or broken teeth short of replacing them.
For minor to moderate chips, cosmetic bonding might be recommended. In this method, special high-tech resins, in shades that match your natural teeth, are applied to the tooth’s surface. Layers of resin, cured with a special light, will often restore the tooth to good appearance. Best of all, the whole process can often be done in just one visit to the dental office, and the results can last for several years.
For a more permanent repair—or if the damage is more extensive—dental veneers may be another option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that cover the entire front surface of one or more teeth. Strong, durable and natural-looking, they can be used to repair moderate chips, cracks or irregularities. They can also help you get a “red-carpet” smile: brilliant white teeth with perfectly even spacing. That’s why veneers are so popular among Hollywood celebs—even those who haven’t chipped their teeth!
Fortunately, even if the tooth is extensively damaged, it’s usually possible to restore it with a crown (cap), a bridge—or a dental implant, today’s gold standard for whole-tooth replacement. But in many cases, a less complex type of restoration will do the trick.
Which tooth restoration method did J-Lo choose? She didn’t say—but luckily for her adoring fans, after the microphone mishap she went right back up on stage and finished the show.
If you have a chipped tooth but you need to make the show go on, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Eating is one of the pleasures — and necessities — of life, but people who suffer from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) may find eating no pleasure at all — and they may not be eating the right nutritional balance of foods.
TMD is a collection of conditions that affect the jaw joints, connecting muscles and other related facial structures. If you've been diagnosed with TMD, you're probably not only acquainted with severe pain, but also difficulty opening your jaw as widely as normal. This can make it difficult to chew certain foods.
There are a number of effective treatments for TMD, including thermal therapy (hot or cold packs), joint exercise, medication or surgery (as a last resort). But these treatments often take time to make a noticeable difference. In the meantime, you may still need to change what and how you eat to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs.
The overall strategy should be to soften and reduce the chewing size of your food. With fruits and vegetables, you'll want to peel and discard any hard or chewy skins, and then chop the fruit flesh into smaller pieces. Steam or cook vegetables like greens, broccoli or cauliflower until they're soft and then chop them into smaller portions. You might also consider pureeing your fruit (and some vegetables) to make smoothies with ice, milk or yogurt, or vegetable-based soups.
Treat meat, poultry or seafood in much the same way, especially biting sizes. Besides cooking meats to tenderness, include moisteners like broths, gravies or brazing liquids to further make them easier to chew.
Dairy foods are an important source of nutrition: eat milk-based products like yogurt or cheese as much as you can handle. If you have problems with these or also nut butters, then consider meal replacement beverages like instant breakfast or whey protein beverages.
And don't forget whole grains. Although some can be hard to chew, you can prepare them in hot cereal form (like oatmeal) to tenderize them. You can also prepare thin bread toast and cut into smaller pieces.
Hopefully, your treatment will bring your TMD symptoms under manageable control. Until then (and after, if need be) adjust your diet to eat the foods that keep you healthy.
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