Sugar and Tooth Decay Continues to be a Major Health Concern

It may not seem like dental hygiene is a great health issue, but it is. While many acknowledge that sugar increases the risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, it is also a major factor in tooth decay. Because it has become such a concern, there has been a closer look into what types of food and drink are causing the most decay, and health advocates recommend limiting daily intake.

Plan to Improve Dental Health

Fluoride has been used and recommended by many dentists over the years to decrease the incidence of tooth decay, but it is not added to Utah water (like it is in other states), and therefore is not uniformly utilized in this area. Because decay results when oral bacteria and sugar combine, experts in dentistry have determined that sugar is a major concern in addition to fluoride, and are trying to educate patients about the importance of limiting sugar and implementing good oral hygiene.

Policy leaders in the United Kingdom are recommending that additional sugar should only supply five percent or less of total daily caloric intake, and the American Heart Association similarly recommends that added sugars account for less than 100 calories per day for women and 150 for men. The UK is also working on reducing the amount of sugar in drinks and processed foods, but since the same policies are not in place in the U.S. it’s important for consumers to monitor their own food intake and limit sugar accordingly.

What You Can Do

Obviously, cutting down on your sugar intake will help prevent cavities and tooth decay, but what exactly does that look like on a daily basis? Five percent is a very small amount when it comes down to it. For example, if you consume around 2,000 calories in a day, you would be limited to 100 calories of sugar. If you drink a glass of juice in the morning, you have already used up your sugar calorie allotment.

You may find it difficult to cut that much sugar out of your daily diet, but there are other things that you can do to help decrease sugar from mixing with the bacteria in your mouth. After eating or drinking something sweet, rinse your mouth out with water as quickly as possible to flush out the excess sugar. Also brush your teeth regularly, especially after consuming sweets.

Limiting sugar can have several health benefits for people, including reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, controlling weight, and also maintaining strong and healthy teeth.

Healthy Mouth = Healthy Body

Healthy Mouth = Healthy Body

You probably know that proper oral care, including brushing and flossing your teeth, will help keep your teeth clean and your gums healthy, but did you know that even basic oral hygiene can help with keeping your entire body healthy? Many dentists and primary care doctors today understand that the health of your mouth can indicate whether or not you have other potential health issues, and unhealthy mouths can also lead to disease in other parts of the body.

A Dirty Mouth

The average person’s mouth has many different types of bacteria. Not all of them are harmful, but if you do not properly care for your teeth, the number of total bacteria in your mouth could number between 100 million and 1 billion—about 1/7 the population of the entire planet—and that number grows every day that you go without proper oral care.

While much of the bacteria in your mouth is harmless, and some is even helpful, the buildup of harmful bacteria can cause significant problems, leading to gum disease, such as gingivitis or more severe periodontal disease, tooth decay, and eventually even tooth loss.

Connecting Your Mouth and Your Health

Most experts believe that the link between your mouth and your overall health stems from inflammation, which is your body’s natural response to infection. Inflammation signals your immune system to go to the part of your body that is experiencing the problem so it can fight off the disease. Acute inflammation—the kind that happens when you get hurt or sick—is good for your body because it helps your immune system identify and fight infection, disease, or injury. However, over time if you have frequent and ongoing gum disease causing chronic inflammation, the chemicals released to fight the infection can actually wear down your immune system and make it less effective at defeating disease all over your body, including in your gums and the surrounding teeth and bones.

The Link Between Oral Health and Chronic Disease

The strongest connection between oral health and chronic disease is with diabetes, with many studies showing that inflammation and periodontal disease weaken a body’s ability to control blood sugar levels, which is critical to controlling diabetes. Conversely, high blood sugar levels will contribute to higher levels of sugar in the saliva, creating an ideal environment for more bacteria to grow and increasing the severity of gum disease for diabetes patients.

Heart disease has also been closely linked to oral health, although the reasons for the link are still unclear. Part of the connection may be that the risk factors for heart disease and gum disease are similar—such as smoking, being overweight or obese, and eating an unhealthy diet. Some researchers and medical professionals also theorize that inflammation in your mouth can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels, which makes it harder for blood to travel throughout the body, increasing blood pressure and increasing the danger that plaque could break off the walls of the blood vessels and cause a stroke or heart attack.

Other diseases and chronic conditions that may be linked to oral health problems include:

  • Endocarditis
  • Premature birth and low birth weight babies
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Osteoporosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Protecting from Oral Disease

The best way to protect yourself from periodontal disease is to practice good oral hygiene habits:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice per day
  • Floss daily
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and limited or no sugar
  • Visit with a dentist regularly for check-ups

“If you visit the same dentist regularly at the recommended six-month intervals, he or she can identify subtle changes that may indicate a potential problem,” said Dr. Kenneth King, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Patient Care at Roseman University College of Dental Medicine in South Jordan, Utah.

“Things like gingivitis, recession of the gums, tender tissues, bone loss, calculus build-up, and increased number of cavities can all be indicators of a larger systemic problem,” said King. But since the changes are subtle, a dentist may have a difficult time diagnosing the symptoms for someone who comes infrequently for check-ups, or someone who gets a new dentist every couple of years. “Seeing the same dentist at regular intervals over a number of years is ideal, so he or she knows your history and can identify the more subtle indicators.”

Periodontitis – Common or Uncommon?

Many people suffer from periodontitis. This is an infection of the gums that damages the soft tissues and actually damages the bones supporting your teeth. As a result of this problem, people can lose teeth or have other problematic dental issues. Also, periodontitis is linked to several health problems including hearts disease and stroke. Is this problem common or uncommon? 

Periodontitis Is Common

Periodontitis is actually pretty common. However, most people that have this problem could have prevented it with better oral hygiene habits. There are also certain factors that increase the risk of developing this condition:

  • Heredity
  • Tobacco use
  • Old age
  • Gingivitis
  • Diabetes
  • Decreased immunity
  • Pregnancy
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor bite

Preventing Periodontitis

It is important to try to prevent this problem from happening – especially if you have an increased risk of developing the disease. In order to do so, you need to implement better oral hygiene habits. This entails brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, and some people that are highly at risk also brush after meals. In addition to daily brushing, flossing is important because it helps remove the plaque build up and minimize the bacteria in your mouth.

One of the best ways to prevent the problem is to visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and exams. During this time, your potential gum problems can also be treated before they develop into periodontitis.

Symptoms to Be Aware Of

Since periodontitis is common, it is important to recognize the symptoms of this problem. The following symptoms might indicate that you should seek the help of your dentist:

  • Swollen gums
  • Tenderness in the gums
  • Red or purple gums
  • Receding gums
  • Pus between the gums and teeth
  • Bad breath
  • New space between your teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Bite changes
  • Weird taste in your mouth

Periodontitis has different levels of severity. If you think you have a problem, it is a good idea to work with your dentist to resolve it before it gets worse.

Xerostomia: Causes and Treatments for Dry Mouth

The absence of saliva in the mouth can cause discomfort and often leads patients to seek medical care for treatment. Otherwise known as xerostomia, the condition is not a disease in itself, but is caused by other factors. While everyone gets a dry mouth at one time or another, having it chronically can not only be frustrating, but can also cause medical and dental issues. Treating xerostomia is important to improving your quality of life as well as preventing any additional problems that could occur.

What Causes Xerostomia?

Xerostomia can be a result of many different issues. Some of the causes for the common condition include the following:

  • Medications – Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs list dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Nerve damage – Damage to the nerves that control saliva production can result in xerostomia.
  • Cancer treatments – Chemotherapy drugs or radiation can halt the production of saliva.
  • Other diseases – Parkinson’s disease or Sjogren’s syndrome can affect the salivary gland.

Other conditions, including stress and depression, can lead to the lower production of saliva in the mouth as well.

What Problems does Xerostomia Cause?

Leaving xerostomia untreated can lead to further issues. The condition can cause difficulties with speech and eating, as well as an increase in cavities or infections in the mouth, since saliva helps wash away bacteria from the surface of your teeth.

What is the Treatment for Xerostomia?

Beginning treatment requires finding the root cause of the dry mouth. Eliminating the cause is not always possible, so dental professionals must promote a treatment option that addresses the issue, but does not detract from other medical care. Palliative treatment can be used to treat the condition, but will not cure it. These options include avoiding alcohol-based mouth washes, using artificial saliva, sipping plain water, or using over-the-counter dry mouth products. Prescription medications can be used to stimulate saliva production in order to replace the saliva and prevent other medical and dental issues.

Xerostomia is not only a frustrating side effect, but can be the cause of some other serious issues. Good oral care and dental treatments should be sought to prevent further problems.