Starting college is one of life’s biggest transition moments, the first time many young people can truly say they’re on their own. Their freshman year can be both exhilarating and frightening.
The reason for this seeming dichotomy is that both exciting opportunities and harmful pitfalls abound in college life. One such pitfall that’s often overlooked involves dental health: it’s all too easy to neglect good habits and adopt bad ones. But while it may not seem as harmful as other dangers, inattention to your dental health could create consequences that plague you long after graduation.
But being diligent about dental care can help you avoid serious problems now and in the future. At the top of the list: brush and floss your teeth daily and continue seeing a dentist at least twice a year. Hopefully, your parents or guardians have trained you in these vital habits—and they’re definitely habits you should continue for the rest of your life.
Close in importance to good oral hygiene is a healthy diet. Besides eating primarily “natural” food—fresh fruits and vegetables and less-processed foods—you should also set limits on your sugar consumption. This carbohydrate is a primary food for disease-causing bacteria, so limiting as much as possible the sugar you eat to just meal times will lower your risk for tooth decay.
Another area in which you should tread wisely is alcohol consumption. Besides the obvious consequences of alcohol abuse, immoderate drinking can also cause dental problems. Alcohol (and smoking) tends to dry out the mouth, which can increase the levels of oral bacteria and in turn increase your risk of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, avoid getting piercings involving the lips, mouth or tongue even if it’s the thing to do. Piercing hardware can chip teeth and contribute to the shrinking back of the gums (recession). And be sure you practice safe sex: unprotected sexual activity could expose you to viral infections that cause oral problems including cancer.
Your college years should be an exciting and memorable experience. By practicing these and other common sense dental habits, you’ll be sure to remember these years fondly.
If you would like more information on dental care during college, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make if you want to reduce your risk of oral cancer, with quitting a tobacco habit at the top of the list. You should also moderate your alcohol consumption and practice safe sex to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) linked to oral cancer.
And there's one other area that might be ripe for change—your diet. The foods we consume can work both ways in regard to cancer: some, especially processed products with certain chemicals, increase your cancer risk; more natural foods, on the other hand, can help your body fight cancer formation.
Although how cancer forms and grows isn't fully understood, we do know some of the mechanisms involved. One major factor in cancer growth is damage to DNA, the molecule that contains all the instructions for normal cell growth. Certain chemicals called carcinogens cause much of this DNA damage.
One example of these dangerous chemicals are nitrosamines, found in substances used to preserve meats like bacon or ham. Nitrosamines also occur in beer during the brewing process, some fish and fish products, processed cheese and foods pickled with nitrite salt. It's believed long-term consumption of foods with these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer.
On the other hand, there are foods with substances called antioxidants that help our bodies resist cancer. Antioxidants protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals that can also damage DNA. You'll find antioxidants in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Vitamins like C and E found in many natural foods also have antioxidant properties.
So, to help keep your risk of cancer and other diseases low, make sure your diet includes mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, along with plant-based fats found in nuts or olive oil. At the same time minimize your consumption of processed foods with preservatives and other chemicals, along with animal and saturated fats.
A change in eating not only reduces your cancer risk, it can also improve your overall health and well-being. You'll also find a healthy diet can be dental-friendly—it can help keep your teeth and gums disease-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly nutrition practices, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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.”
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