You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.
That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.
What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.
This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.
But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.
In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Dental veneers—thin, life-like layers of porcelain bonded to teeth—can turn a so-so smile into a beautiful one. But most veneers have a distinct drawback: To make them look as natural as possible, the teeth they're bonded with must have some of their surface enamel removed.
Even though they're 1 millimeter or less in thickness, veneers on an unprepared tooth can look bulky. Removing some of the surface enamel remedies this, but doing so permanently alters the tooth. The tooth will need a veneer or some other protective restoration from then on.
Now, though, there's an alternative veneer available for many dental patients. Known as No-Prep or Minimal-Prep, these new veneers are often as thin as a contact lens.
These new types of veneers can often be placed directly on the teeth just above the gum line without any enamel removal and look natural. At the most, the enamel beneath them may need reshaping with an abrasive tool. And, unlike traditional veneers with tooth alteration, these low-prep veneers can often be applied without anesthesia, and in as few as two appointments.
No- or Minimal-Preps are better suited for certain kinds of patients: those with small teeth or teeth that appear small due to larger mouth features; worn teeth from aging or teeth grinding or with small gaps; narrow smiles where the side teeth aren't as visible; and teeth that are slightly misshapen or with minor staining.
On the other hand, patients with oversized teeth or front teeth that jut forward may still encounter problems with an unnatural, bulky appearance even with ultra-thin veneers. The latter situation can often be corrected with orthodontic treatment first to realign the teeth to their proper positions. Once the bite is corrected, no-prep veneers may then become a viable option.
If you'd like to consider these minimal preparation veneers, see your dentist for an examination. The exam results will help determine what type of veneer solution is right for you. And whether you go with traditional or No-Prep veneers, the change in your smile can be amazing.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers without enamel removal, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Mouth injuries in children and teens are more common than you might think: about one out of three boys and one out of four girls will have experienced an injury before they graduate from high school. Besides contact sports, other types of accidents like car crashes or falls are high on the cause list.
Although most dental injuries aren’t considered true emergencies, there are a few where prompt action may mean the difference between ultimately saving or losing a tooth. One such situation is a knocked out tooth.
In the event of a knocked out (or avulsed) tooth, your primary goal is to place the tooth back into the empty socket as quickly as possible. Teeth that have been out of the mouth for less than five minutes have the best chance of reattachment and survival. The first step is to quickly locate the missing tooth.
Once you’ve found it, use only cold, clean water run or poured over the tooth to carefully clean off dirt or debris (no soaps or cleansers). You should also avoid touching the tooth root or scrubbing any part of it. After cleaning it of debris, gently place the tooth back in its socket, then immediately contact us or visit an emergency room. While you’re en route to our office the patient should carefully hold the tooth in place. If the tooth can’t be immediately placed into the socket (the patient is unconscious, for example), then you should place the tooth in a clean container and keep it moist with cold milk, a sterile saline solution or even the patient’s saliva.
Taking these steps increases the chances of a successful re-implantation, although the injury may ultimately affect the tooth’s lifespan. Replanted teeth can suffer from root resorption (where the root tissue dissolves) or a process known as ankylosis in which the tooth fuses directly to the jawbone with no healthy periodontal ligament in between. Either of these conditions can lead to tooth loss.
Still, it’s worthwhile to try to save the tooth, even if for a few more years. Those extra years can help you prepare for a future restoration.
If you would like more information on responding to dental injuries, 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 “Accidental Tooth Loss.”
Most of us think of insurance as a means to protect us and our families from unforeseen loss. While that’s the general definition, some insurance plans — like dental — don’t quite work that way.
The typical dental plan actually works more like a discount coupon for dental services. Most are part of an employer-based benefit package and usually “fee-for-service”: the insurance company pays for part or sometimes the entire bill after your dental visit based on a fee schedule laid out in the policy.
A plan’s benefits depend on what the insurer offers to cover and what level of coverage your employer (or you) are willing to pay for. Typically, the more items covered under the policy, the higher the premium. Any deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before receiving any plan benefits) can also affect the premium — the lower the deductible, the higher the premium.
The benefits may also be limited due to what a patient’s dentist charges for services. Most insurers pay benefits based on what they determine to be the “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee for a particular service. The dentist’s fees are most often higher, however, resulting in the patient paying a higher percentage of the bill.
Still, a dental plan can work to your financial advantage, especially if it’s employer-based with premiums paid by your employer. It may not be advantageous, however, if you’re paying the premiums. For example, a person without insurance might spend on average $200 a year for basic dental care (mostly preventative — checkups and cleanings), while a person with insurance may have those expenses covered, but are paying yearly premiums of $500 or more for the plan.
You should also consider one other factor: our first priority as dentists is to pursue the best course of treatment for your particular dental needs, which may not always align with what your policy covers. At the same time, we understand the limitations you may be under with your plan — we work in this world every day. We’ll certainly assist you in navigating the insurance waters to achieve the best care for what you can afford.
If you would like more information on dental insurance and other financial arrangements, 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 Insurance 101.”
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