If you love ice cream, then you'll get a kick out of this: Your favorite treat has its own month. That's right, July is National Ice Cream Month, when we celebrate—and indulge in—one of the most delicious concoctions ever known. Just don't overdo it, among other reasons, for the sake of your teeth.
In a way, it's a bit of a love-hate relationship between this frozen wonderfulness and your dental health. Like any dairy, ice cream is full of nutrients like calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D that together strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. But this nutritional benefit is tempered in most ice cream by its other major ingredient: sugar.
Sugar can be a problem for your teeth because disease-causing oral bacteria love it just as much as you do. It's a prime food source for them, and when there's a lot available (like right after you finish that dipped cone) bacteria go crazy multiplying and producing acid. This could lead to tooth decay or gum disease.
Sugar's effect on dental health is an issue not only with ice cream but with other desserts and sweetened snacks as well. What can you do, then, to have your ice cream (or cake) and your dental health too?
Moderate your consumption. We're not saying you have to give up sweet desserts like ice cream—just keep your portions small and infrequent. Partake of them mainly as an occasional treat rather than as standard everyday fare.
Brush after eating. The biggest threat to dental health is the sugar that lingers in the mouth after we eat something sweet like ice cream. So, wash your mouth out with water and then brush your teeth after eating to remove any residual sugar. But not right away—give your saliva a chance to neutralize any mouth acid first by waiting about thirty minutes.
Choose healthier options. Instead of diving into a bowl of butter pecan or rocky road when you get the urge to snack, try a little non-fat Greek yogurt or cheese with some fresh fruit. Choosing alternatives like these can still give you the benefit of dairy without the excess sugar.
Ice cream is one of those indulgent little pleasures that make life sweet. Just be sure you're enjoying it within healthy limits to protect your dental health.
If you would like more information about nutrition and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Half of all children will injure at least one tooth before adulthood. That's why we're joining with other health professionals this June to promote National Safety Month. As dentists, we want to call particular attention to potential dental injuries and what parents and caregivers can do to help their child avoid them.
The source for a dental injury usually depends on a child's age and development level. Younger children learning to walk and run are more apt to fall, and may hit their mouth on hard or sharp surfaces. Later on, most dental injuries tend to come from contact during sports play or other physical activities.
Your prevention strategy should therefore adjust to your child's age and activity level. If you have an infant starting to walk, for example, don't allow them to move around carrying a bottle, cup or other hard object that could be a source of injury if they fall. Also, keep an eye out for hard furniture or sharp-edged surfaces as they toddle around.
If you have a highly mobile toddler, discourage them from climbing and jumping on furniture, tables or other hard surfaces. If feasible, pad these surfaces and sharp edges to minimize the force of impact from a collision.
To prevent sports-related mouth injuries in older children and teens, your primary defense is an athletic mouthguard. Mouthguards cushion and absorb much of the force generated during hard sports contact. They should be worn for any physical activity with a potential risk for mouth injury, including practice sessions and informal play like a pick-up basketball game.
A type of athletic mouthguard known as “boil and bite” is readily available in retail sporting goods stores. After purchase, it is softened in very hot water; the wearer then places it in their mouth and bites down to form a permanent impression. Boil and bite mouthguards offer protection, but they can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
For a higher level of protection along with a more accurate and comfortable fit, a custom mouthguard created by a dentist is a more desirable option. These are based on a detailed impression of the wearer's bite, so the fit can't be beat. Both types of mouthguard need upgrading periodically in young wearers to accommodate dental development as they age.
Accidents can happen, but there's much you can do to reduce the likelihood of injury to your child's teeth. Protective measures and equipment—as well as a watchful eye—can go far to help them emerge from these active, early years dentally unscathed.
If you would like more information about dental safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
“My tooth hurts…or maybe more than one. Or, it might be my gums.”
If you're having trouble describing the pain in your mouth, don't feel bad. Although our body's pain mechanism is great for alerting us to a problem, it can't always tell us the true cause and location of that problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain. It could be a sign, for instance, of decay within a tooth's inner pulp. When under attack, the nerves in the pulp often send out pain signals that could be sharp, dull, continuous, intermittent, seeming to come from one tooth or several.
If this is the case, depending on how deep the decay is, you could need a filling to resolve the problem or, if it's more extensive, possibly a root canal treatment to save the affected tooth. If you need a root canal, after removing the pulp's diseased tissue, the procedure calls for filling the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent future infection.
Another possibility for the pain is gum disease that has also infected the tooth. Gum disease usually begins with the bacteria in dental plaque, a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces, which infect the gums. If not treated promptly, the infection can advance below the gum line to the tooth roots and supporting bone. From there, it could invade the tooth and travel through the root canals to the interior pulp.
In this scenario, we'll need to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) deposits from all tooth and gum surfaces. This is usually done manually with hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, but it may also require surgical access to infected areas around the roots. If the tooth's nerve has become involved, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment as described above.
There are three key points to take from these two tooth pain scenarios. First, the only way to determine the true cause of your pain (and what treatment you'll need) is with a dental exam. Second, the sooner your pain is diagnosed and you begin treatment, the better your outcome—so see your dentist at the first sign of pain or other symptoms like swollen or bleeding gums.
And finally, you may be able to prevent these and other dental problems by removing disease-causing plaque through daily brushing and flossing and professional teeth cleaning every six months. Prevention through effective oral hygiene may help you avoid a future bout of mysterious tooth pain.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
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