We Americans spend billions on oral hygiene products each year, primarily to fight tooth decay and gum disease. But there's also a secondary motive—to freshen our breath. Our obsession with our breath's olfactory quality has even given rise to National Fresh Breath Day on August 6.
Bad breath is usually not a serious health issue, but it can be a big deal in other respects. In a recent Match.com survey, more than a third of its 5,000 respondents said fresh breath was their top concern during a date.
Romance aside, bad breath can also adversely affect other social and career relationships. Given that, it's no wonder we buy mints and mouthwashes by the ton. Unfortunately, much of what people purchase only masks breath odor without addressing the underlying cause.
While serious conditions like diabetes, liver disease or cancer can give rise to it, the primary source of bad breath is oral bacteria. Many of the hundreds of bacterial strains inhabiting our mouths generate volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) with a smell akin to rotten eggs or decaying animal or vegetable matter. The longer these bacteria remain in the mouth, the more VSCs and their unpleasant odors they create.
Bacteria mainly thrive in a thin film of food particles known as dental plaque. It can build up quickly on tooth and gum surfaces, particularly with ineffective or non-existent oral hygiene. Dental plaque also causes tooth decay or gum disease, which may also contribute to unpleasant mouth odors.
Chronic dry mouth, in which the body isn't producing enough saliva, also encourages bacterial growth. Among its many functions, saliva's antibacterial compounds reduce bacterial populations. Without sufficient saliva, though, VSC-producing bacteria can run amok.
There's nothing wrong with swishing some mouthwash or popping a breath mint before a big meeting. But if you really want to alleviate bad breath, it's better to take direct action against the oral bacteria causing it.
The best thing you can do is maintain a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. This should also include cleaning the top surface of your tongue, which can be a prime hiding place for bacteria, particularly at the back of the tongue. You can simply brush your tongue with your toothbrush or use a special tongue scraper.
You should also keep up regular dental visits, which include cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). You should also see the dentist to treat any occurring dental diseases or conditions, including chronic dry mouth.
Fresh breath has everything to do with a clean, healthy mouth. Keeping it so can help you avoid those embarrassing odors.
If you would like more information about how to better keep your breath fresh, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
The few teeth your one or two year old has will eventually fall out in a few years—so, why be concerned about tooth decay this early? Actually, you should: Fighting tooth decay should always be a priority, even at this early age.
Even though primary teeth are short-lived, they make a huge impact on future dental health. These early teeth help guide the eruption of permanent teeth—if lost prematurely to decay, the later teeth may come in misaligned and create a poor bite. Preserving them could help you avoid later orthodontic treatment.
Fortunately, you can help prevent decay in your child's primary teeth. Here's how.
Practice oral hygiene even before teeth. You should begin daily oral hygiene, the principal defense against tooth decay, even before their first teeth emerge. You can reduce harmful bacteria in their mouths by wiping their gums with a clean cloth after nursing. When teeth appear, begin brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Limit sugar consumption. Because decay-causing bacteria thrive on sugar, reduce your child's intake in snacks and beverages. For example, don't put them down for bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid like juice, sweetened drinks or even formula or breast milk. If you do give them a night-time bottle, fill it only with water.
Avoid bacterial transfer. Your child's immature immune system can't handle the same level of bacteria as in your mouth. So, reduce the chances of bacterial transfer that may cause tooth decay by avoiding kissing on the mouth or sharing eating or drinking utensils with your infant.
Begin dental visits early. Even though they may have few teeth by their first birthday, it's still a good time to begin your child's regular dental visits. Your dentist may be able to diagnose decay early (and treat for maximum effectiveness), as well as provide sealants, topical fluoride and other measures for preventing decay.
Tooth decay at an early age could impact your child's future dental health. Taking steps now to reduce it could help ensure they have healthy teeth and gums later in life.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Along with tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease is a primary enemy of oral health. If not caught and treated, a gum infection could spread and eventually cause tooth loss.
But although prevalent among the general population, one demographic in particular is highly susceptible to gum disease—smokers and tobacco users in general. It's estimated over 60 percent of all smokers will contend with a gum infection at some point during their lifetimes. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers to develop advanced gum disease that could lead to serious dental damage.
The high rate of gum disease among smokers (and to some extent, all tobacco users) is connected to the effect that tobacco has on oral health in general. Studies show that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, which in turn reduces their delivery of antibodies to fight disease-causing bacteria. As a result, smokers have more harmful bacteria in their mouths than non-smokers, which increases their risk of dental disease.
Smokers are also less likely than non-smokers to display inflammation or redness, the initial signs of a burgeoning gum infection. This too has to do with the constricted blood vessels in the gums that can't deliver adequate oxygen and nutrients to these tissues. As a result, the gums can appear pink and healthy, yet still be infected. This could delay diagnosis of gum disease, allowing the infection to become more advanced.
Finally, smoking can interfere with the treatment of gum disease. Because of nicotine, a tobacco users' infections and wounds are often slower to heal. Combined with late diagnoses of gum disease, this slower healing creates an environment where smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to lose teeth from gum disease.
If you do smoke, it's important to let your dentist know how much and for how long you've smoked, which could be relevant to any dental care or treatment. Better yet, quitting the habit could improve your oral health and lower your risk for teeth-destroying gum disease.
If you would like more information on the effects of smoking on 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Even though coronavirus lockdowns have prevented TV hosts from taping live shows, they're still giving us something to watch via virtual interviews. In the process, we're given occasional glimpses into their home life. During a Tonight Show interview with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R & B performer Ciara, Jimmy Fallon's daughter Winnie interrupted with breaking news: She had just lost a tooth.
It was an exciting and endearing moment, as well as good television. But with 70 million American kids under 18, each with about 20 primary teeth to lose, it's not an uncommon experience. Nevertheless, it's still good to be prepared if your six-year-old is on the verge of losing that first tooth.
Primary teeth may be smaller than their successors, but they're not inconsequential. Besides providing young children with the means to chew solid food and develop speech skills, primary teeth also serve as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth as they develop deep in the gums. That's why it's optimal for baby teeth to remain intact until they're ready to come out.
When that time comes, the tooth's roots will begin to dissolve and the tooth will gradually loosen in the socket. Looseness, though, doesn't automatically signal a baby tooth's imminent end. But come out it will, so be patient.
Then again, if your child, dreaming of a few coins from the tooth fairy, is antsy to move things along, you might feel tempted to use some old folk method for dispatching the tooth—like attaching the tooth to a door handle with string and slamming the door, or maybe using a pair of pliers (yikes!). One young fellow in an online video tied his tooth to a football with a string and let it fly with a forward pass.
Here's some advice from your dentist: Don't. Trying to pull a tooth whose root hasn't sufficiently dissolved could damage your child's gum tissues and increase the risk of infection. It could also cause needless pain.
Left alone, the tooth will normally fall out on its own. If you think, though, that it's truly on the verge (meaning it moves quite freely in the socket), you can pinch the tooth between your thumb and middle finger with a clean tissue and give it a gentle tug. If it's ready, it should pop out. If it doesn't, leave it be for another day or two before trying again.
Your child losing a tooth is an exciting moment, even if it isn't being broadcast on national television. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you let that moment come naturally.
If you would like more information on the importance and care of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
In a little over a century, antibiotics have changed the face of healthcare. We no longer fear cholera, strep throat or even a small cut as our forebears did a hundred years ago. Antibiotics are also an essential weapon against infection in dental situations.
But evidence is mounting that we're overusing these miracle drugs. Besides continued growth in antibiotic prescriptions, sometimes to preempt a possible infection rather than treat an existing one, food producers are increasingly adding them to animal feed and other products as a preventive measure.
The problem with expanding our uses of antibiotics is the ability of targeted microorganisms to develop defenses against our most common drugs. Some may even mutate into a kind of "super bug" like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which no longer responds to a particular antibiotic.
As older antibiotics become less effective, we must develop newer drugs to overcome the strengthened defenses of targeted microorganisms. But this takes time—meanwhile, as antibiotic options dwindle, more than 2 million people each year encounter an antibiotic-resistant infection that results in around 20,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
But there are hopeful signs that the world is now rising to meet the threat of antibiotic resistance. For example, support is growing within the U.S., Canada and the EU to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed except for treating actual infections.
Many healthcare organizations are also exploring ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. One way is to make better use of testing, especially to identify the precise bacteria causing an infection so that it can be targeted with a specific antibiotic that will best respond to it.
We're also seeing modifications in the use of antibiotics as a preventive measure. For example, people with certain conditions like congenital heart problems or joint prosthetics have routinely received antibiotics before dental procedures to preempt infection. In recent years that list of conditions has been trimmed substantially.
The move toward a more conservative use of antibiotics will have an impact on healthcare, including dentistry. But whatever the changes, dentists and other health professionals will continue to place their patient's health at the forefront.
If you would like more information on the use of antibiotics in dentistry, 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 “Antibiotics: Use and Abuse.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.