Pay attention to your teeth: the dangers of poor dental health

Poor dental hygiene can pose a significant risk to your overall health. Brian Johnston outlines the dental issues to look out for.

For many of us, our mouths are the most overlooked part of our body when it comes to wellbeing, yet dental hygiene can be vital to our overall health.

Beyond regular brushing and occasional visits to the dentist, few of us take much notice of our dental health.
Yet what takes place within our mouth (that crucial, bacteria-laden intake point for our nourishment and air supply) can indicate serious underlying complaints.
“The teeth and the entire mouth give us important clues as to what may be happening in a person’s body,” says Sydney-based holistic dental surgeon Dr Nader Malik. “For example, a holistic dentist may see dental erosion being strongly linked to acid reflux or mineral imbalance, or chronic sinus congestion resulting from a poor tooth-to-jaw relationship.”
These five dental issues can tell us a lot about our overall health.
1. Dry mouth
This condition, which occurs when there isn’t enough saliva in the mouth, can accelerate tooth decay. “It isn’t a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of some underlying and more concerning issue,” says Dr Nader. “It often results from certain drugs or medications, treatments for cancer, or from auto-immune diseases such as AIDS.”
Dehydration, nerve problems, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes are other significant medical conditions that can result in dry mouth.
2. Grinding teeth
Grinding your teeth (bruxism) might simply be an indication that your teeth are misaligned or fillings are too high. But it’s also common in people who are emotionally stressed, angry or anxious, the cause of more serious health issues.
“Some of the many factors believed to trigger bruxism in susceptible people include mental concentration, stresses such as illness, nutritional deficiency or dehydration, or drug misuse, particularly amphetamines,” concludes Dr Lester.
3. Inflamed gums
Gum inflammation (gingivitis) is easy to treat but, if unaddressed, can lead to more serious periodontitis. Symptoms include bad breath, bleeding, swollen and receding gums, and eventually tooth loss.
Considerable research links periodontitis to a risk of heart disease and strokes. “An increase in cavities and gum disease could also be a sign of high blood glucose,” says Steven James from the Australian Diabetes Council. “People with diabetes have an increased risk of oral complications, so it’s vital that both diabetes and oral health are managed.”
4. Mouth ulcers
Mouth ulcers are usually caused by burns or bites and last just a few days, but ulcers that don’t clear up need medical treatment. They might indicate infectious diseases such as herpes simplex (cold sores), syphilis, cancer of the lip, or various auto-immune diseases.
Other irregularities on your lips, gums, tongue and insides of your mouth could be signs of oral cancer. These irregularities include red or white patches, permanent ulcers, hard spots and numbness. If they don’t heal within a few days it’s advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible. Oral cancers can occur on the lips, tongue, pharynx and oral cavity and are life-style related. More than three-quarters of oral cancers are caused by excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption.
5. Tooth decay
Diet is a significant factor in tooth decay so, if you’re losing teeth or have a lot of caries that require fillings, consult a nutritionist about a balanced diet.
Medications can also be harmful to dental health.
“Estimates suggest that about 40 per cent of people take at least one type of medicine that could damage their teeth,” says Dr Rosemary Lester, Acting Chief Health Officer for Victoria. “These include antihistamines, aspirin, asthma medications and syrups, as well as illegal drugs.”
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Dental health and overall health

Most of us are unaware of the fact that our dental health and general health are related.  We tend to think of our teeth and gums as separate from the rest of our bodies.  After all, we see a separate doctor for their care.

But our mouths are part of a whole, and the health of one affects the other.  Poor general health, or specific diseases and even the medications we take for them, can have a negative effect on our teeth and gums.  And problems with our teeth and gums can cause problems elsewhere in the body.

Good general health starts with good nutrition, and the same rules for a healthy diet make good sense for our oral health as well.  Particularly, minimizing the consumption of sugars is good for the waistline, and minimizes the incidence of cavities.

Minimizing stress is good for your heart, but you may not realize it’s good for your teeth as well.  Many people with stress issues grind their teeth (bruxism) while sleeping and may be unaware that they do.   A dentist may recognize wear patterns that indicate teeth grinding and may suggest an appliance to correct the problem.  High stress also increases your level of cortisol which is bad for your body, including your gums.

Dry mouth is something that people can experience as a result of certain medical conditions, and can also result from certain medications, even over the counter ones. Dry mouth is uncomfortable and increases your risk of cavities and gum disease.

If you develop gingivitis or periodontal disease this can increase your risk of heart attack. While not fully understood, it’s believed bacteria from gum disease contributes to plaques in the arteries.  It’s also believed this bacteria triggers inflammation which narrows arteries and increases risk of clots.




National Toothbrush Day: Tips for a healthy smile

Did you know that tooth decay is the most common childhood disease? Cavities are almost 100 percent preventable when children have access to prevention, education and treatment services, yet one-third of children ages 6 to 8 have untreated cavities in a permanent tooth.

National Toothbrush Day is June 26 and serves as a reminder of how important a little brush is to a person’s health.
Here are five important tips for using your toothbrush and maintaining good brushing habits:

1. If you were still wearing a heavy coat the last time you replaced your toothbrush, you’re definitely overdue for a new one. Toothbrushes need to be replaced when they get frayed and worn, which is typically every three months. Vigorous brushers will probably need to replace their toothbrush more frequently.

2. Select soft bristles over hard ones unless otherwise instructed by your dentist. Soft bristles are more pliable and can get between teeth easier. Hard bristles can make brushing painful and may also wear away gums and tooth enamel.

3. It may be tempting for teething tots, but don’t let young children chew on the toothbrush head. It drastically shortens the life of the bristles.

4. To maximize the effectiveness of brushing, pick up your toothbrush right after a meal. It helps remove the food debris that bacteria feed on. Use a small dot of fluoridated toothpaste and you’re giving your teeth a dose of fluoride right when they need it most.

5. Bedtime brushing equals better sleep. Repeating a relaxing bedtime routine (including brushing your teeth, of course) eventually gets your body programmed to start winding down for sleep.

Always rinse off your toothbrush after you’ve used it and let it dry before using it again.  And, don’t share your toothbrush with others; you don’t want to exchange mouth bacteria.
Remember, a regular check up with your dentist is as important as an annual physical. If you are afraid of the dentist and only make an appointment when you are in pain, think of this – regular preventive care is not painful and it will help prevent painful visits in the future. Good oral health is very important to your overall good health.



Perinatal oral health discussion and research continues: Here are some of the latest finds

The link between the oral cavity and the rest of the body continues to be explored. A Summary of the 2013 Michigan Perinatal Oral Health Conference, August 2013, is now available. While this document was created for Michigan, most of the information is applicable to any state. About 70 people representing medical/dental health professionals, local, state, and federal government agencies, advocacy groups, and academia attended the Michigan perinatal conference. Like in other states, there is a need for more data on perinatal oralhealth and perinatal oral health care in Michigan.

The document provides an overview of the presentations and discussions at the two-day conference held last August, including a proposed action plan for the next steps. ThePerinatal Infant Oral Health Action Plan can be located in Appendix A, and it outlines the goals acknowledged by conference participants as the guiding principles for program planning and policy development. These objectives provide a framework for thePerinatal Oral Health Program Action Plan,and are indicative of the federal priorities that were summarized by Commander Pamela Vodicka. The Michigan Department of Community Health stated that the Action Plan is the initial step for engaging experts to further refine program activities and move toward implementation strategies to improve health outcomes.

There are numerous problems in the area of perinatal oral health, and one is that many dentists do not accept certain patients, such as Medicaid patients. Also, some are uncomfortable treating very young children unless they have specialty training. Many are affected by antiquated teachings from dental school where they were told not to treat pregnant women for fear of harming the fetus.



Why Dental Work Is Emerging As The New Anti-Aging Procedure

Getting your teeth fixed can be more effective than Botox. At least this is what aesthetic dentist Dr. Michael Apa tells me as he explains the noninvasive “Smile Lift,” an anti-aging procedure he created as an alternative to plastic surgery and dermatology.

“The goal is to create harmony within the face and reestablish youthfulness in a natural way,” says Dr. Apa, who lists Chloe Sevigny, Lea Michele, Vera Wang and Rachel Roy among his celebrity clientele. His practice has also been named the aesthetic dentist of record for Elite Model Management and Wilhelmina Models, who rely on him to craft camera-ready smiles before Fashion Week.

I’m admittedly skeptical of the idea that veneers can create the same effect as a face lift, but he quickly makes a convincing case. Below, our conversation on creating beautiful smiles, both in the dentist’s chair and at home.

Dr. Michael Apa

How do teeth affect overall facial structure, particularly when it comes to aging?
Dr. Michael Apa: “The skin loses elastin and collagen over time, creating wrinkles, sagging and a more hollowed-out look due to loss of cheek fat. As teeth age, they can shift, wear down—and sometimes even need to be removed. What most don’t think about is that the teeth support the lower third of the face, and over time, this support begins to collapse.”

How do you rebuild this support?
Dr. Michael Apa: “This is where the Smile Lift comes in, which essentially means changing the position of the teeth to a more favorable position that will provide the needed support to the upper lip. Think about it this way: the teeth serve as the foundation for the rest of the face. For example, a patient with collapsing teeth may elect to have a lip injection. While some fullness in the lip may be restored, this provides no support. Getting the teeth fixed restores harmony to the face and fixes the underlying issue—excessive grinding—which would come back if you opted for a quick fix with Botox or cosmetic surgery.”

What do you look for in a beautiful smile?
Dr. Michael Apa: “Restoring balance within the face is what I seek for all of my patients. When I meet with them, I carefully review all the elements of the face, and how they can work harmoniously to achieve the most natural smile. This means taking every feature into consideration: face shape, tooth color, tooth size, light refraction, age and skin tone. Together, I’m looking at how the teeth complement or detract from the overall balance. This process is part of an approach I pioneered called the Facial Aesthetic Design, which is a way of counteracting the age, wear and discoloration that happens over time through growth and development patterns. The key is to create extremely thin veneers, while removing the smallest amount of tooth material and bonding them directly over the teeth.”

How does the Facial Aesthetic Design differ from traditional dental procedures?
Dr. Michael Apa: “I don’t use a traditional method of smile design like most other dentists because it only focuses on creating perfectly symmetrical teeth. This may not be right for every patient, and can actually have a reverse disharmonious effect. After a full facial assessment and direct bonding mockup to show the patient what their smile will eventually look like, I sculpt the temporaries over the teeth, an uncommon step for most dentists. Artistic ability allows me to create these trial smiles, allowing patients to wear them and provide feedback before we finish the veneers. The ceramist will then create a line-for-line copy of my work to duplicate the temporary teeth into individual porcelain restorations.”

Teeth are structurally important as far as anti-aging goes, but on the surface, the biggest concern is whitening. What’s the most effective way to get a brighter smile at home?
Dr. Michael Apa: “First, bleach strips. I recommend Crest® 3D White Whitestrips Professional Effects, which are loaded with the active ingredient hydrogen peroxide. Since maximum efficacy of most bleach strips happens in the first 15 minutes, maximize your results by using three strips a session, changing them every 15 minutes for a total of 45 minutes a day. You should also invest in an electric toothbrush like the DiamondClean by Sonicare. Not only will this keep your gums healthier and your teeth cavity-free, but it will also keep your smile looking white and free of any stains from coffee or wine. Lastly, limit the juicing. Not only does it stain your teeth, but it also cuts down on chewing. If you plan to join the juice craze this summer, remember to always brush your teeth afterwards or chew sugarless gum, preferably one that contains xylitol. It stimulates the salivary glands to produce saliva, which not only is anti-carious for your teeth, but also has a lubricating property that stops stains from setting in.”

Sometimes whitening teeth can make them oversensitive. Do you have any tips for avoiding this problem?
Dr. Michael Apa: “Combine your pastes. While whitening toothpastes have silica in them to scrub away stains and prevent yellowing, there is some unresolved controversy about the damage they may cause to the enamel. To get the maximum stain removal effect safely, alternate the whitening paste every other day with a non-abrasive high fluoride paste. Crest® Pro Health is great because it has one of the highest amounts of stannous fluoride in an over-the-counter toothpaste.”



Dental Care 101: Tips That You Can Use Today

For those who have antiquated ideas of what dental care really involves, the fear of obtaining such services can sometimes be crippling. Spending a few minutes learning about new dental procedures will teach people that visiting the dentist is nothing to fear. The following advice is a great start!

              Image by ScreenTV

Brush your teeth twice a day to prevent tooth decay. When you brush, make sure to massage the gums with your toothbrush and to keep brushing for at least two minutes. Dentists recommend two minutes as a minimum amount of time to brush if you want health teeth and gums.

The cleanliness of your teeth is affected by how you work your toothbrush. While brushing, hold the brush at an angle rather than straight. Next, move the toothbrush in a circle. Avoid brushing your teeth too rough, as this could irritate your gums.

It is important to replace your toothbrush every three months. Over time, the bristles on your toothbrush become worn and stop performing as well as they should. In addition, bacteria can build up on your toothbrush and become embedded in the bristles. Replacing your toothbrush frequently is a core component of a good dental care regimen.

Always read over the labels that are on the toothpaste you’re going to buy. It is imperative you choose a toothpaste with fluoride. There may also be teeth-whitening agents included. If your gums are suffering, switch to a less abrasive compound.

Many people are afraid to seek dental treatment because they have false notions about dental work and dental care. However, if these people just do a little research and learn what is really involved with dental care, they may find that their fears are baseless. As long as you take what you just read to heart you should have no problem making that much needed dentist appointment today.

You Asked: Is Biting Your Nails Dangerous — or Just Gross?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Social stigma aside, experts say gnawing on your nails could lead to some scary health issues

You do it while you’re reading emails or watching television; the tip of a finger creeps up between your teeth, and you nibble away for a few minutes before catching yourself. Your mom always told you it was a bad habit, and you worry about coworkers eye-balling your shredded digits. But is biting your fingernails actually dangerous?

“Yes, and for a number of different reasons,” says Richard Scher, M.D., an expert on nail disorders at Weill Cornell Medical College and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

To begin with, your nails harbor all sorts of germs. In particular, a family of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae — which includes salmonella and E. coli — tends to thrive in the cozy crevice beneath the tips of your nails, Scher explains. When you bite your nails, those bacteria end up in your mouth and gut, where they can cause gastro-intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Long-term, habitual nail nibblers can also suffer from a type of infection called paronychia, Scher says. Tears or abrasions in the skin of your fingertips allow strains of bacteria or yeast to get inside. Both cause swelling, redness, and a buildup of puss around and under the nail, which has to be drained surgically and treated with antibiotics or antifungal agents, he explains.

If the infection is bacterial, the nail can also become tender and painful. “You’ll see it where every fingertip becomes inflamed,” Scher adds.

The wart virus HPV is also a common infection among nail biters, says Chris Adigun, M.D., a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. After infecting the fingers, these warts can then spread to your mouth and lips, Adigun adds.

The perils of nail biting also extend to your teeth. “Constant biting can lead to poor dental occlusion, so the biter’s teeth shift out of position or become oddly shaped,” Scher says. Biters also suffer from higher rates of gum disease and infection, he adds.

So how do you quit the habit? For a lot of people, nail biting is a manifestation of stress or psychological disorders.

“Both tend to cause teeth grinding, and your fingernails are a handy buffer.” You’ll have a hard time stopping without help from a psychiatrist or mental-health professional, he says. If your habit is mild, Scher says there are over-the-counter products you can spread on your nails that have a bitter taste. “The taste reminds you not to bite,” he explains.