Chewing tobacco is as much a part of our sports culture as the national anthem. What once began as an early 20th Century baseball player method for keeping their mouths moist on dusty fields has evolved into a virtual rite of passage for many young athletes.
But the persona of “cool” surrounding smokeless tobacco hides numerous health threats — including disfigurement and death. What isn’t as widely recognized is the degree to which chewing tobacco can adversely affect your teeth, mouth and gums.
Need more reasons to quit? Here are 4 oral health reasons why you should spit out smokeless tobacco for good.
Bad breath and teeth staining. Chewing tobacco is a prime cause of bad breath; it can also stain your teeth, leaving your smile dull and dingy, as well as unattractive from the unsightly bits of tobacco between your teeth. While these may seem like superficial reasons for quitting, a less-than-attractive smile can also have an impact on your self-confidence and adversely affect your social relationships.
The effects of nicotine. Nicotine, the active ingredient in all tobacco, absorbs into your oral tissues and causes a reduction in blood flow to them. This reduced blood flow inhibits the delivery of antibodies to areas of infection in your mouth. This can cause…
Greater susceptibility to dental disease. Tooth decay and gum disease both originate primarily from bacterial plaque that builds up on tooth surfaces (the result of poor oral hygiene). The use of any form of tobacco, but particularly smokeless, dramatically increases your risk of developing these diseases and can make treatment more difficult.
Higher risk of oral cancer. Besides nicotine, scientists have found more than 30 chemicals in tobacco known to cause cancer. While oral cancer constitutes only a small portion of all types of cancer, the occurrence is especially high among smokeless tobacco users. And because oral cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages, it has a poor survival rate compared with other cancers — only 58% after five years.
The good news is, you or someone you love can quit this dangerous habit — and we can help. Make an appointment today to learn how to send your chewing tobacco habit to the showers.
If you would like more information on the effects of chewing tobacco on general and 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 “Chewing Tobacco.”
Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life — but it can also generate a lot of questions about both the mother’s and the baby’s health. The realm of dental care is no exception.
Here are a few of the questions we frequently hear from expectant mothers, along with our answers.
Does the baby’s tooth calcium come from my teeth?
This question is frequently asked by mothers who may have had dental issues and are worried they’ll pass on these problems to their baby. Simply put, no — a baby developing in the womb derives minerals like calcium for their teeth and bones from the mother’s diet, not her teeth. What an expectant mother can do is be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrients and minerals like calcium.
Am I at heightened risk for dental disease during pregnancy?
Pregnancy does cause significant increases in your body’s hormones, particularly estrogen. This can cause changes in the gum tissue’s blood vessels that may make you more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease (commonly called “pregnancy gingivitis”). It’s also possible later in pregnancy to develop non-cancerous overgrowths of gum tissues called “pregnancy tumors.” The heightened risk for gum disease during pregnancy calls for increased vigilance in monitoring gum health.
What should I do to take care of my teeth?
It’s important to brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste to remove plaque, a thin layer of bacteria and food remnants that adhere to teeth. You should also floss daily and consider using an anti-plaque/anti-gingivitis mouthrinse. And, of course, you should see us for regular office cleanings and checkups, or if you notice swollen, tender or bleeding gums, or other abnormalities.
Should I take prenatal fluoride supplements?
This sounds appealing as a way to give your baby a head start on strong tooth development. Studies on its effectiveness, however, remain slim and somewhat inconclusive — we simply don’t have enough data to make a recommendation. What does have a solid research record is the application of fluoride to teeth in young children just after they appear in the mouth — studies involving over a thousand teeth have shown 99% cavity-free results using topical fluoride applications with sealants.
If you would like more information on dental care during pregnancy, 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 “Expectant Mothers.”
A substantial amount of research has recently pointed up the connection between oral health and systemic (whole-body) health. But recently, one study went a step further: It seems to show that having certain dental-health issues in middle age — for example, tooth loss and gum disease — could signal a deterioration in cognitive function.
Study author Gary Slade, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, summed it up: “We were interested to see if people with poor dental health had relatively poorer cognitive function, which is a technical term for how well people do with memory and with managing words and numbers,” he said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report. “What we found was that for every extra tooth that a person had lost or had removed, cognitive function went down a bit. The same was true [for] patients with severe gum disease.”
Does this mean that losing teeth is a little like losing brain cells? Not really, because it isn’t clear which condition occurred first… or even if one caused the other. For example, it could be that a poor diet is responsible for both poor dental health and a decline in cognitive ability; on the other hand, there could be a genetic link between both conditions. Or, it could simply mean that people with cognitive difficulties don’t take good care of their teeth.
Still, the association is intriguing — especially because it echoes some previous studies, which indicate that systemic inflammation could be a major cause of both problems. What’s the oral-systemic connection? No one is exactly sure yet, but research suggests a relationship between periodontal disease and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The common link may be bacteria: The same microorganisms that cause problems in the mouth might be able to spread through the body, producing a low-grade inflammation — one that’s waiting for the right conditions to burst into fire.
So, should you rush out and grab everything off the drugstore’s oral health products shelf? Well, we wouldn’t necessarily go that far… but here’s a more sensible suggestion: Take good care of your teeth and gums. Both tooth decay and periodontal disease can cause a number of problems with your health — yet both can be treated effectively… and they’re largely preventable!
If you haven’t visited our office in a while, why not come in for an exam? When you do, ask us what’s the best way to keep your smile looking great and feeling clean and healthy. Our goal is to help you maintain proper oral hygiene — for life. If you would like more information about oral health and systemic diseases, call our office for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases.”
Electric-powered toothbrushes have been in use for decades, and continue to enjoy wide popularity. But since their inception in the 1950s, there’s been a continuous debate not only about the best choice among powered toothbrushes, but whether powered toothbrushes are as effective in removing plaque as manual toothbrushes.
These debates are fueled by a large body of research over many years on powered toothbrushes. For instance, an independent research firm known as the Cochrane Collaboration has evaluated over 300 hundred studies of powered toothbrushes (over a thirty-year span) using international standards to analyze the data.
Surprisingly, they found only one type of powered toothbrush (using a rotation-oscillation action) that statistically outperformed manual toothbrushes in the reduction of plaque and gingivitis. Although from a statistical point of view the difference was significant, in practical terms it was only a modest increase in efficiency.
In all actuality, the most important aspect about toothbrushes in effective oral hygiene isn’t the brush, but how it’s used — or as we might say, “it’s not the brush so much as the hand that holds it.” The fact remains, after first flossing, a manual toothbrush can be quite effective in removing plaque if you brush once or twice a day with a soft-bristle brush using a gentle brushing motion.
Although a powered toothbrush does much of the work for you, it still requires training to be effective, just as with a manual toothbrush. We would encourage you, then, to bring your toothbrush, powered or manual, on your next cleaning visit: we would be happy to demonstrate proper technique and give you some useful tips on making your brushing experience more effective.
Remember too: brushing your teeth and flossing isn’t the whole of your oral hygiene. Although a critical part, brushing and flossing should also be accompanied with semi-annual professional cleanings to ensure the removal of as much disease-causing plaque as possible.
If you would like more information on types of toothbrushes, 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 “Manual vs. Powered Toothbrushes.”
All children encounter sickness as they grow; thankfully most of these conditions are relatively mild and fade away in short order. But some children endure more serious, longer lasting conditions. The health of children with chronic diseases can be impacted in numerous ways, including the health of their teeth and gums.
Unfortunately, dental care is often pushed to the side as caregivers understandably focus on the primary disease. In addition, many chronic conditions involving behavior, such as autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or intellectual disabilities, may inhibit the child’s ability to cooperate with or even perform daily oral hygiene. Many special needs children have an acute gag reflex that makes toleration of toothpaste, spitting matter from the mouth, or keeping their mouths open more difficult. However difficult it may be, though, it’s still important to establish daily hygiene habits to reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
There are techniques for building a daily routine for children with physical and behavioral limitations. For example, using “modeling and shaping” behavior, you (or perhaps a sibling) brush your teeth with your child to demonstrate how it should be done. If there’s a problem with cooperation, you can also position the child “knee to knee” with you as you brush their teeth. In this way you’ll be able to meet their eyes at a level position and lessen the chance of a confrontation.
We encourage all children to have their first dental visit before their first birthday. This is especially true for children with chronic conditions. The Age One visit helps establish a benchmark for long-term care; it then becomes more likely with regular visits to discover and promptly treat dental disease. This is especially important for special needs children who may have congenital and developmental dental problems, like enamel hypoplasia, a condition where the teeth have not developed sufficient amounts of enamel.
Teeth are just as much at risk, if not more so, in children with chronic diseases. Establishing daily hygiene and regular checkups can reduce that risk and alleviate concern for their long-term oral health.
If you would like more information on oral healthcare for children with chronic diseases, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”