Posts for: March, 2013
What do burnt eggshells, crushed bones, brick dust and ox-hoof ashes have in common? Are they things you discovered in your kid's pocket? Ingredients in a witches brew? Funky organic compost materials?
It may be hard to believe — but they're all substances that were once used to make toothpaste, from ancient Egyptian concoctions through 18th century British blends. But don't worry: You won't find any broken crockery or ashes inside a modern tube! Today's toothpastes are scientifically formulated to be effective in removing plaque, which helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease (not to mention bad breath.) So what makes them work so well?
One class of ingredients found in all toothpastes is abrasives — also called cleaning and polishing agents. These slightly grainy substances make the mechanical action of brushing more effective. But unlike crushed bones, or the harsh, gritty particles of yore, today's abrasives are designed to remove stains and bacterial films without damaging tooth structure.
Next come detergents, which account for the foam you see when you brush vigorously. Detergents (sometimes called “surfactants”) help to break up and wash away materials that would otherwise be difficult to dissolve. An ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate, which is also found in many shampoos, is probably the most common detergent used in toothpastes.
Fluoride, first included in toothpaste in 1914, is another common ingredient. In fact, all toothpastes that carry the seal of the American Dental Association contain it, typically in the form of sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate. It has been proven to make tooth enamel stronger and more resistant to decay.
In addition to these primary components, toothpastes generally contain flavorings to make them more palatable, and binders and preservatives to hold them together and keep them from drying out. Special-purpose toothpastes — like those designed to whiten teeth, prevent tartar, or help reduce sensitivity — have added ingredients.
But regardless of what's in your toothpaste, there's one thing you should remember: It's not the paste (or the brush) that keeps your teeth and gums healthy — it's the hand that holds it! Brushing once or twice a day, using a soft brush with the proper technique (and your favorite toothpaste!) is probably the most important thing you can do at home to enhance your overall oral health.
If you have questions about toothpastes or oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Toothpaste — What's In It?”
Did you know that tooth decay (dental caries) is the second most frequently occurring disease — surpassed only by the common cold? It can start as soon as toddlers sprout their first teeth and by middle age, more than 90% of adults are affected by the problem! Fortunately, you can significantly lower your risk for decay. The key is to nurture health-promoting (protective) factors in your mouth while discouraging those that are disease causing (pathologic).
The top two traditional steps can't be stressed enough:
Good Oral Hygiene. Diligent brushing and flossing, along with routine professional cleanings, help limit a buildup of bacterial plaque (biofilm). This whitish film is attractive to decay-producing bacteria (among the many types of bacteria — including beneficial ones — that normally live in the mouth). These microbes like to snack on sugars and carbohydrates (perhaps part of that bagel you had for breakfast or the midafternoon candy bar), and in the process they produce acid. A healthy oral environment has a neutral pH — a perfect balance between acids and bases. But in a more acidic environment, minerals in the protective enamel of your teeth start to dissolve, exposing the dentin and root surfaces underneath that are even more vulnerable.
Sensible Diet. Keep decay-producing bacteria in check by limiting your intake of sugars and carbohydrates; the bacteria need these nutrients to grow and reproduce. Choose products containing natural sugars, such as those in fruits and vegetables, over those containing added sugars, such as sodas and candy. Be aware that Xylitol, an “alcohol sugar” used in some chewing gums and dental products, can actually help reduce pathogenic bacteria. And don't forget that frequent consumption of acidic foods and beverages, such as sipping coffee during the day, can create an acidic environment in your mouth that can contribute to decay by eroding tooth enamel and weakening its defenses.
Individual Risk Factors
You also may have individual risk factors as well that our office can help you identify and address. For example, the shape of everyone's teeth varies and some of us have more valleys, tiny grooves and pits than others. These likely places for bacteria to congregate can be the most difficult to reach with a toothbrush, but invisible sealants can be applied to prevent bacteria from reaching those areas.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Decay” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Often perceived as a cancer that only affects older adults who have a history of heavy tobacco and alcohol use, oral cancer is now on the rise among younger adults as well. New research has found a link between oral cancers, and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a disease that is primarily spread through oral sex.
Importance of Screening: If you're concerned about oral cancer, rest assured that our office routinely carries out a cancer screening exam on every patient. We have several ways to painlessly detect abnormal tissues in their earliest stages. In addition, please contact our office if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:
- White and/or red patches in the mouth or on the lips
- A bleeding or ulcerated sore in the mouth
- A sore anywhere in your mouth that doesn't heal
- Persistent difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
Although all of these symptoms can also be signs of less serious problems, be sure to alert our office if you notice any of the above changes.
Prevention: you can take a proactive role in preventing oral cancer by:
- Conducting an oral self-exam at least once a month. Use a bright light and a mirror, look and feel your lips and front of your gums, the roof of your mouth, and the lining of your cheeks.
- Scheduling regular exams in our office. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every three years for people over age 20 and annually for those over age 40.
- Refraining from smoking or using any tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
- Eating a well balanced diet.
- Practicing safe sex.