Here's a bit of magic: Hold your smart phone camera in front of someone and say, "Cheese!" More times than not, they'll break into a smile. No one knows for sure the origin of this grin-inducing phrase, but it works like a charm. And it's quite appropriate too! That tasty aging of proteins and fat also helps to keep the stars of our smile—our teeth—in good health.
In the fight against tooth decay and gum disease, daily oral hygiene—brushing and flossing—and regular dental visits get top billing. But nutrition is also a critical factor for great dental health. A diet low in sugar and processed foods and rich in whole foods can also lower your dental disease risk.
Dairy is an important part of this "tooth-friendly" eating. In recognition of National Dairy Month this June, here's how products like milk and cheese can help you maintain a healthy—and photogenic—smile.
Nutrients. Dairy products like milk and cheese are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Two of the most important are calcium and phosphorous, both of which the body uses to build strong bones and teeth. The micronutrient Vitamin D found heavily in dairy helps regulate these important minerals so that they're available for teeth.
Reduced decay risk. Cheese and other dairy products do contain a form of sugar called lactose. But it has a milder effect within the mouth than other sugars, particularly sucrose (refined sugar): While bacteria readily feed on sucrose and release enamel-eroding acid as a by-product, they're less likely with lactose. Even so, there's still a risk, albeit lower, of lactose leading to tooth decay, so go easy on consumption.
Acid buffering. Speaking of acid, cheese in particular seems to contribute to neutralizing this bacterial byproduct. It's believed it does this by stimulating saliva production, which is the body's primary means for restoring proper pH balance in the mouth after eating. So, eating a little cheese during or after consuming a food with sugar may help offset any acid resulting from the sweet snack.
Cheese and other dairy products are a good source of protein, but also fat, so they should be consumed in moderation for overall health. But nibbling on a bit of Gouda, Havarti or Mozzarella can be a good thing for your teeth—and make it more likely you'll smile wide for the camera.
If you would like more information about the role of nutrition in better dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.
If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.
A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.
The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.
As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.
You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.
Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.
If you would like more information on how to manage thumb sucking, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Do you want to give your child something that will benefit them the rest of their life? Then give them the gift of healthy teeth and gums.
Such a gift doesn't come wrapped in a box with a bow on it—you bestow it first by ensuring they receive the utmost in dental care during their formative years. Even more importantly, you instill in them good oral care habits that will protect their dental health for the rest of their lives.
Oral Hygiene 101. Daily hygiene—brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque—is the foundation for maintaining a lifetime of optimal dental health. Early on, you'll have to perform these tasks for your child, but the true gift is in teaching them to brush and floss effectively for themselves (and your dentist can help too!).
How's my brushing? There's oral hygiene—and then there's effective oral hygiene. For a quick check, there's a simple test you can teach your child to make sure they're brushing and flossing correctly: Just after they finish, have them rub their tongue all along their teeth. If the teeth feel smooth, they've made the grade! If it feels gritty, though, they'll need to try again. (For better accuracy, you can also purchase a disclosing solution at your local pharmacy that when applied to teeth will reveal any remaining plaque.)
Eating for dental health. Instilling the values of proper nutrition not only promotes your child's overall health, it can also help them have healthier teeth and gums. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, help build strong teeth and bones. Avoiding processed foods, especially those with added sugar, helps them avoid tooth decay or gum disease.
Mouth protection from injury. As your child grows and becomes more active, they're more at risk for injury to their mouth, teeth or gums. Help them break habits like chewing on hard objects, and insist on them wearing a mouthguard while playing sports. As they enter the teen years, encourage them to avoid “mouth jewelry” that could damage their tooth enamel.
These values and practices are often woven into the fabric of everyday life. They take relatively little time, but they can make a huge impact on your child's oral health future.
If you would like more information on dental care for kids, 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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