In the battle against tooth decay, fluoride is an important weapon. Since the discovery of its dental health benefits a century ago, fluoride has been credited with saving countless teeth.
But over its history in dental care, this natural-occurring chemical has also had its share of controversy with concerns raised from time to time on potential health dangers. These run the gamut from “conspiracy theory” speculations to credible research like a 2006 National Research Council study that suggested a possible increased risk of bone fracture or cancer from over-consumption of fluoride.
Even so, there is actually little evidence or even record of incidence for such dire consequences. The only definitive health effect from fluoride found after decades of copious research is a condition called fluorosis, a permanent staining effect on the teeth. Fluorosis poses a cosmetic problem but does not harm the health of the teeth.
Moderation in fluoride use seems to be the key to gaining its health benefits while avoiding fluorosis. One influential fluoride researcher, Dr. Steven Levy, estimates 0.05-0.07 milligrams of fluoride per one kilogram of body weight (about a tenth the weight of a grain of salt for every two pounds) is sufficient to gain the optimum dental benefit from fluoride.
The real question then is whether your family’s current consumption of fluoride is within this range. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether your local water utility adds fluoride to your drinking water supply and how much. You may also be ingesting fluoride through processed foods, juices and even some bottled waters. And you can encounter fluoride in dental care including toothpastes and clinical treatments.
One way to moderate your family’s fluoride intake is to be sure all your family members are using the correct amount of fluoride toothpaste for their age while brushing. Infants need only a slight smear on the end of the brush, while older children can brush adequately with just a pea-sized amount. For other tips and advice, talk to your dentist about your family’s fluoride intake and how you might adjust it.
Even with the possibility of fluorosis, fluoride still provides an incredible benefit in preventing tooth decay. By understanding fluoride and keeping your intake within normal ranges you can maximize its benefit for healthier teeth and minimize the fluorosis risk.
If you would like more information on the role of fluoride in dental 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
It’s important for your child’s current and future health that we watch out for tooth decay. Taking x-rays is a critical part of staying one step ahead of this common disease.
But while x-ray imaging is commonplace, we can’t forget it’s still a form of radiation that could be potentially harmful, especially for a child whose tissues are rapidly developing. We must, therefore, carefully weigh the potential benefits against risk.
This concern has given birth to an important principle in the use of x-rays known as ALARA, an acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In basic terms, we want to use the lowest amount of x-ray energy for the shortest period of time to gain the most effectiveness in diagnosing tooth decay and other conditions.
A good example of this principle is a common type of radiograph known as a bitewing. The exposable x-ray film is attached to a plastic devise that looks like a wing; the patient bites down on it to hold it in place while the x-ray exposure takes place. Depending on the number of teeth in a child’s mouth, an appointment usually involves 2 to 4 films, and children are typically spaced at six months apart. Frequency of x-rays depends on your child’s tooth decay risk: lower risk, less need for frequent intervals.
Each bitewing exposes the child to 2 microsieverts, the standard unit for radiation measurement. This amount of radiation is relatively low: by contrast, we’re all exposed to 10 microsieverts of background radiation (natural radiation occurring in the environment) every day or 3,600 microsieverts annually. Even two appointments of four bitewings each year is a fraction of a percent of the background radiation we’re exposed to in the same year.
This conservative use of x-rays is well within safe parameters for children. As x-ray technology continues to advance (as with the development of digital imaging) we anticipate the exposure rate to diminish even more. Prudently used, x-rays remain one of our best tools for ensuring your child’s teeth are healthy and developing normally.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
Pregnancy creates enormous changes in your physical body. These changes, especially on the hormonal level, can impact many aspects of your health including teeth and gums.
While it’s easy to let dental care take a back seat to other health concerns, you should actually pay close attention to it while you’re expecting. Here are 4 things to focus on during pregnancy to avoid problems with your dental health.
Don’t avoid dental work unless otherwise advised. You may be concerned about undergoing dental procedures during pregnancy, especially those that involve anesthesia. But both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Dental Association (ADA) encourage pregnant women to continue regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. And unless your obstetrician advises otherwise, it’s usually safe to undergo dental work that can’t wait.
Be on the lookout for pregnancy gingivitis (gum disease). Because of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, your gums could be more susceptible to gum disease caused by plaque buildup. That’s why you should be on alert for signs of a gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. And be sure to practice diligent, daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing plaque, as well as regularly visiting your dentist for professional cleanings.
Make sure your diet is “tooth” friendly. Because of the changes in your body, you may experience food cravings that alter your normal dietary habits. So as much as possible, try to keep your food choices in line with what’s best for your teeth and gums: minimize your sugar intake (a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria); and focus on nutritiously balanced meals and snacks.
Keep your entire healthcare team informed. When you make your next dental appointment, tell your dentist you’re pregnant and how far along, any medications and supplements you’re taking, or any complications you may be experiencing. This information could have a bearing on how your dentist approaches any treatment. Likewise, let your obstetrician know about any issues with your teeth and gums, as well as any suggested dental work you may need.
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 “Dental Care during Pregnancy.”
November is National Diabetes Month—a time to focus on a disease that affects more than 400 million people around the world. What does diabetes have to do with oral health? Plenty! Here's a true-or-false quiz to test your knowledge on this important topic.
TRUE OR FALSE:
1. Diabetes and gum disease are connected.
TRUE. Studies have found a clear association between diabetes and gum (periodontal) disease, especially when diabetes is not well controlled. People with poorly controlled diabetes have a more severe inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. While inflammation is normally a protective reaction of the body's immune system, too much inflammation can actually make the condition worse. In the case of gum disease, the reverse is also true: Untreated gum disease can worsen blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The good news is that treatment of periodontal disease has been shown to improve blood sugar control.
2. People with diabetes can't have dental implants.
FALSE. Research has shown that dental implants can be a very successful tooth-replacement treatment for people with diabetes. But again, blood sugar control can be a factor. Dental implants are titanium posts that serve as artificial tooth roots. Minor surgery is required to insert an implant into the bone beneath the gums; a realistic-looking dental crown is later attached to it so it can look and function like a natural tooth. Studies have shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal around implants in people with poorly controlled diabetes. That doesn't make implant treatment impossible, but it does mean that it may be managed differently. For example, an implant may be allowed to heal for a longer period of time before a crown is attached to it.
3. People with diabetes can't do anything to improve their oral health.
FALSE. People with diabetes can have a very positive impact on their oral heath, by doing their best to control blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise, and by sticking to an effective daily oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing at least once each day to remove bacterial plaque between teeth. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also essential—not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone!
If you have additional questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about diabetes and oral health by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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