Dentist Shares Nutrition Tips for Healthy Teeth

Nutrition impacts the health of your teeth in many important ways. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep your pearly-whites free from decay, shared by Dr. Andrew Koenigsberg, a dentist in New York City.

Avoid Sugar and Acid

Sugar and especially refined sugar is digested by the bacterial plaque on teeth to form acid. The smallest amount of sugar, (think a Tic Tac or a small amount of sugar in coffee), creates an acidic environment in the mouth for a couple of hours. This acidic environment softens teeth and makes them susceptible to decay. Acidic drinks and foods, including fruit, also create an acidic environment, making teeth susceptible to erosion, abrasion, and weakening (attrition), as well as decay.

“So there are some foods that we all know that are acidic: lemons, limes, oranges. And what I’ve seen people think is ‘the minute I eat them, let me go and brush my teeth and try to remove it,’ which is absolutely the worst thing they can do,” said Sharon Richter, a registered dietitian, in an interview on Floss Talk, a program hosted by Dr. Koenigsberg, a New York City dentist and owner of Gallery 57 Dental.

Brushing immediately after eating an acidic food is ill advised, according to Richter, because the acid would be forced into the teeth by the brushing action. It is ideal to wait for two hours after having an acidic food to allow saliva to neutralize the acids in one’s mouth.

Be Careful With Drinks

Many common drinks such as carbonated beverages and sports drinks can be highly acidic and can cause teeth to erode. In general, coffee and tea are less acidic and while they may stain teeth, will not cause erosion. Of course, adding lemon, one of the most acidic fruits, can change that. Many of these beverages also contain sugar making them even more cariogenic (able to cause cavities).

Eat Meals Not Snacks

If sugary and acidic foods and drinks are going to be consumed, it is best to do so with meals and then allow the saliva to neutralize the acid over the next couple of hours. If not challenged by new acid, saliva can reverse the effects of acid. This is challenging for many people who snack frequently as even “healthy” snacks often contain sugar. Nuts and many vegetables are a good choice as they have minimal sugar and are not acidic.

Best Time to Brush

It is better not to brush immediately after eating and drinking as the tooth is softest and the most susceptible to abrasion when exposed to acid. Of course, excellent brushing and flossing reduce the amount of plaque that is available to convert sugar into acid so effective oral hygiene is important. The ideal time to thoroughly remove plaque is after eating and drinking is done for the day and before going to sleep when the saliva slows down.

Should I Take Supplements to Strengthen My Teeth?

There are some common misconceptions surrounding the benefits of certain foods, vitamins and supplements in terms of their impact on tooth and gum health.

Calcium, while important for children whose teeth are forming, does not play a large role in the dental health of adults whose teeth are already formed. Even osteoporosis has minimal impact on the bones that hold the teeth in place (alveolar bones).

Proper, balanced nutrition is important for healthy gums and saliva; however, there is little evidence for specific dietary additions.

People suffering from “dry mouth,” a common side effect of many medications, should consult with a dentist and/or nutritionist to come up with a plan to keep the mouth moist without creating an acidic environment. Unfortunately, many people with dry mouth use tart, sugary lozenges to stimulate the saliva, which can lead to extensive decay.

Dentist sees damage from sugar

As a dentist, Dr. Eli Mayes said he’s seen the impact of drugs or lack of care on teeth. However, it pales in comparison to what he witnessed practicing dentistry in Alaska.

“I’ve seen meth mouth here,” Mayes said. “I haven’t seen anything compared to what I saw up there from just sugar.”

Born and raised in Union, Mayes, who owns Eli Mayes Dental, and his family moved to La Grande when he was in the eighth grade. His father, Jerry, and mother, Suzy, have been involved in area education for years. Suzy is the principal at Central Elementary School, and Jerry retired from his position as principal of Hines Middle School earlier this year.

The educators’ son attended the University of Idaho, and then graduated from the University of Oregon before diving into graduate school at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in Richmond, where he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree.

“Right out of dental school, you try to figure out what you’re going to do when you graduate,” Mayes said. “I had a friend tell me about Barrow, Alaska, which is the northernmost point in Alaska, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.”

So Mayes accepted a position to practice at a health center in the North Slope town of Barrow, where the medical facilities had living quarters for dentists. He and two other dentists also periodically took care of five other villages. Mayes was mainly responsible for villages such as Kaktovik and Point Lay, which he said was more than 100 miles from Barrow.

Getting from Barrow to the smaller villages required the use of a bush plane.

“It was rare when I went to Barter Island (where Kaktovik is) that I wouldn’t get stuck there,” Mayes said. “There would be a fog that always came in. The plan would be to visit the villages for seven to 10 days, but I’d (usually) be there for 14 days.”

An avid outdoorsman, Mayes said he enjoyed all the spoils the Last Frontier had to offer, highlighted by the sheer vastness of the Brooks Range, salmon fishing and hunting.

One aspect of village life that left Mayes in awe was the whale hunts to feed the villages.

The entire process involved countless aspects: ice-cutting to gain greater access to water, waiting for whales to come up and breathe and the boats’ method of funneling the whales to the hunters. Villagers believing whales would “present themselves” in the channels as a way of saying they were there to feed the Alaskans.

“It was just very religious and very intense,” Mayes said.

But besides the 24 hours of daylight in the summer, which wreaked havoc on Mayes’ schedule and sleep patterns, another aspect Mayes had to get used to was the sugar damage to teeth, especially in the village children.

While it’s common knowledge in the United States that soda is unhealthy, he said parents had no problem letting 2-year-olds drink it instead of water.

“We did a survey (of) the whole North Slope, (and) the average amount per day of pop drunk by each person was six (cans) a day,” Mayes said.

He said it was common to see people of all ages with black teeth or no teeth at all, having been eaten away to where there were just black nubs at the gumline.

“I had 2-year-olds with abscesses everywhere,” he said. “We had to strap (children) down, numb everything and take out all their teeth all the time. It was so common that parents would just drop them off — like no big deal, because that’s normal to have your child’s head strapped down, without general anesthesia, and have their teeth ripped out. That’s horrible.”

Mayes and the other dentists would travel to schools and brush children’s teeth, provide fluoride and apply sealants and do radio broadcasts touting dental hygiene. He said he did start to see a shift when children began telling their parents and grandparents that sugary drinks were bad for their teeth, but he knew it would take more generations for the practice to take hold.

Mayes was there for three years before he returned to Eastern Oregon to start a partnership with Dr. Patrick Nearing, Doctor of Dental Medicine, in 2010. The partnership came about because of a happenstance meeting two years prior with Nearing’s wife on the chairlift at Anthony Lakes while Mayes was visiting home from Alaska.

“Two years later (Nearing called and said), ‘Hey, Eli, I’m looking for an associate, and my wife told me you were a dentist from La Grande.’ I had looked at three or four dental practices in the Northwest, and I was either going to renew (in Alaska) or find a private practice,” Mayes said.

Tips for teeth care during the holiday season

According to Lizabeth Spoonts, associate clinical professor of dental hygiene at Texas Woman’s University, there are ways for your teeth to survive the sweets and snacks associated with season’s eatings.

Spoonts says cavities are caused by eating foods high in sugar or carbohydrates, which are consumed by the bacteria in our mouths. These bacteria produce acid that leads to caries, or cavities, in the teeth. She suggests some tips, based on the American Dental Association guidelines, for a cavities-free holiday:

 

Importance Of Dental Care During Pregnancy Discussed.

Pregnancy Magazine (11/23) discussed the importance of ensuring good oral health during pregnancy, stating that pregnancy may cause oral health changes, such as gingivitis and swollen areas between the teeth. The article encourages moms-to-be to “never skip a teeth cleaning” and practice good oral hygiene.

MouthHealthy.org offers additional information on pregnancy and oral health.

ADA, Federal Agencies, Dentists Still Encourage Flossing

In an op-ed in the New York Times (11/25, Holmes, Subscription Publication), Jamie Holmes, a fellow at New America, states that “would-be defenders of science” are criticizing expertise lately, as seen in the Associated Press report questioning the benefits of dental flossing due to the lack of strong evidence. Although the Department of Health and Human services, the American Dental Association, and others have “reaffirmed the importance of interdental cleaning,” Holmes states that many people now “mistakenly think that ‘science’ doesn’t support flossing.” According to Holmes, “misconceptions about the relation between scientific research, evidence and expertise” explain the confusion. Holmes adds that while some feel “only randomized controlled trials provide real knowledge,” in the case of flossing, “dentists know from a range of evidence, including clinical experience, that interdental cleaning is critical to oral health and that flossing, properly done, works.”

WebMD (11/22, Pagán) discussed the benefits of flossing, stating “many dentists and periodontists say the reason they recommend flossing isn’t because of research,” rather “it’s because of what they see in their patients.”

The ADA released a statement on the benefits of using interdental cleaners, and a Science in the News article titled “The Medical Benefit of Daily Flossing Called Into Question” discusses evidence about the impact of flossing on oral health. MouthHealthy.org also provides resources for patients on flossing, including the correct flossing technique.

Gum Disease Can Worsen Pain For Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

Dental Asia (9/30) reports on the ways in which poor dental hygiene and gum disease can contribute to and worsen rheumatoid arthritis. By testing gum disease strains on arthritic mice, researchers found that Porphyromonas bacteria made the mice’s joint pain worse. Dental Asia recommends that people with rheumatoid arthritis who wish to prevent gum disease use a moving toothbrush, rinse their mouth with mouthwash, quit smoking, and eat a healthy and clean diet.

Everyday Health Lists Best And Worst Seasonal Foods For Dental Health

Everyday Health (10/1) stated “some seasonal fare can take a toll on the health of our teeth and gums,” listing “nine foods to either love or limit through the fall and winter holidays.” For example, the article advised limiting candy due to its high sugar content, adding that holiday favorites like candy canes or toffee are “sticky things that sit on the teeth,” says ADA spokesperson Dr. Matthew Messina. If indulging in seasonal sweets, the article advised brushing, flossing, and drinking plenty of water afterward. The article also stated it is unnecessary to completely avoid favorite seasonal foods and beverages to maintain oral health. “You can eat anything in moderation,” says Dr. Messina. “And make sure you brush twice a day, floss once a day, and see your dentist regularly.”

MouthHealthy.org provides additional information on foods that affect dental health.

Researchers Find Associations Between Gum Disease And Several Health Problems

The Washington Post (10/1, Levingston) reported that researchers are finding potential links “between gum or periodontal disease” and several different types of health problems. Although “experts are far from understanding what these links might mean,” the “links between gum disease and diabetes, at-risk pregnancy, heart disease and stroke have been so consistent that some insurers offer extra preventive periodontal care at little or no cost to people with those conditions.” The article pointed out that according to the CDC “nearly half of all Americans age 30 and older have some form of gum disease; in people 65 and older, 70 percent have some degree of periodontal disease.” The article noted, “Signs of gum disease include bleeding, red or swollen gums; areas where the gum seems separated from the teeth; bad breath; and loose teeth, which can cause changes in your bite, according to the American Dental Association.”

        MouthHealthy.org also provides information for patients gum disease,heart disease and oral health, and diabetes and oral health.

HouseBeautiful Recommends ADA Toothbrush Storage Guidelines.

HouseBeautiful (9/19, Piro) included storing a toothbrush in the medicine cabinet among its list of “common bathroom mistakes.” Storing a toothbrush in a cabinet or container may prevent it from drying between uses, “creating a welcome environment for bacteria.” The article notes “the American Dental Association recommends storing toothbrushes in an upright position, and not touching other brushes, to mitigate the risk of cross-contamination.”

        MouthHealthy.org and the Oral Health Topics on ADA.org provide additional information on toothbrush care for patients and dental professionals.

Skipping Regular Dental Visits May Affect Oral Health

The Independent (UK) (9/20, Gander) states that people who skip regular dental visits “could suffer rapid deterioration of their oral health.” The article states that in addition to looking for tooth decay, “dentists also check for mouth cancer and other ailments, which could potentially save a person’s life.” A UK dentist provides a breakdown of how lack of dental care could affect a person’s oral health over time, mentioning it took him 18 months to reconstruct a patient’s teeth after years of dental neglect.

        The ADA recommends people receive regular dental care at intervals their dentist determines.

        MouthHealthy.org and the Oral Health Topics on ADA.org provide information on oral and oropharyngeal cancer for patients and for dental professionals.