The holiday season is here once again with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's quickly approaching. We have already splurged on Halloween candy. The temptation to snack on sweets can be hard to resist.
There are tricks of the trade that you might not be aware of to help maintain a healthy mouth. Limiting sweets, brushing, and flossing are not the only ways to prevent cavities and decrease bacteria in the mouth. As a dental hygienist, I teach my patients to choose the proper sweets and protect their teeth. I also emphasize how straight teeth play a big part in maintaining a healthy smile.
When choosing a sweet treat, you want to choose things that are non-retentive. If you had to choose between a Tootsie Roll or a Hershey Kiss, which one would you pick? They're both chocolate and both sweet, but the Hershey Kiss would be your better choice because it can be easily brushed off the teeth. Whether it is a candy or a healthy snack like Craisins, sugar does not discriminate. Retentive foods that are sticky and tacky stay in the deeper grooves of the teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. This allows sugar to linger in your mouth for a longer period of time.
The duration of time in which the teeth are exposed to sugars and acids affects the integrity of the enamel. You might remember, back in health class, we learned that everything except meat breaks down to a simple carbohydrate (sugar). Meat breaks down to an amino acid. Therefore, everything besides plain meat has the potential to cause a cavity. Every time you put something in your mouth it represents 30 minutes of sugar or acid exposure. If you find yourself snacking frequently, you are feeding the bacteria in the mouth. I recommend enjoying those snacks in one sitting. If you don't have access to a toothbrush, then drink water or chew sugar-free gum. Acidic drinks, such as sodas, can be even more damaging than sugars when consumed frequently. As a mom, I worry about my kids’ teeth. I try to let them indulge at one time instead of snacking throughout the evening. At least I try!
Here are a few things that you can do to protect your teeth.
An in-office, preventative procedure like sealants, can be placed on the teeth by your hygienist. Sealants are a great way to protect the teeth from those sticky tacky foods that get stuck in the grooves of the teeth. They are a thin protective coating that flows into the deep grooves. Sealants can last up to 10 years to help prevent cavities.
Adults who have deep grooves and a high risk for cavities would also benefit from dental sealants. Adding a fluoride rinse at night can provide extra strengthening for the tooth enamel and root surface. It should be the last thing that touches the teeth before you go to bed. Both sealants and a fluoride rinse can help you get through the holiday season with less sensitivity and decreased bacteria.
Most people don't realize that the alignment of their teeth affects the health of their mouth. In reality, proper alignment is a game changer. Crooked teeth and an improper bite can make it difficult to maintain a healthy mouth. Teeth that are crowded or overlapped create more surface area for food and bacteria to build up, making those areas harder to keep clean. A proper bite is also important.
Teeth are designed to come together to distribute the biting forces. When biting forces are placed on teeth that aren't designed to take on that load, it can lead to an increased need for dental work, such as root canals, periodontal treatments, and fillings by the gum line. Using all of your teeth to chew food is self-cleansing. When teeth are not used for chewing, they build up more bacteria. Bacteria in the mouth travel through the bloodstream. The increased load of bacteria is not just an oral problem but an overall health issue. Orthodontics is not just for straightening teeth. It helps you maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy self.
Remember to choose the correct snacks, brush, floss, and use a fluoride rinse at night. Consider sealants and orthodontics for the long-term health of your mouth. Enjoy your Holiday Season and all the goodness that it brings! Be true to your teeth; they won't be false to you.
Jessica Frasnelli, RDH
Director of Hygiene