Roadmap To Dental Wellness

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Dental health refers to all aspects of the health and functioning of our mouth, particularly the teeth and gums, and is linked to our overall health in and well-being a number of ways.

The capacity to chew and swallow food is vital for obtaining nutrients needed in good health. Having poor dental health can have an effect on our speech and self-esteem, and dental diseases impose both financial and social burdens as treatment is costly.

Start children early
One in four young children develop signs of tooth decay before they start school, while half of all children between the ages of 12 and 15 have cavities. President of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Caryn Solie says that dental care should begin just as soon as the child’s first tooth appears, which is usually around six months. She says that teeth can be wiped with a clean, damp cloth or a very soft brush.

Seal off trouble
A child’s molars come in at around the age of 6. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thin protective coverings can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth which can prevent decay. Sealants can significantly reduce caries.

Use enough – but not too much – fluoride
Fluoride strengthens enamel, making it less likely to decay. Talk to your dental professional who may suggest putting a fluoride application on your teeth. Fluoride should not be used excessively on children. Too much can cause white spots on teeth.

Brush twice a day and floss daily
Gum disease and tooth decay are among the biggest problems for both adults and children. It is important to remember to change toothbrushes three to four times a year. Teenagers with braces may need to use special toothbrushes and other oral hygiene tools to brush their teeth.

Rinse or chew gum after meals
Rinsing with anti-bacterial rinse can help prevent decay and gum problems, while chewing sugar-free gum after a meal can also protect by increasing saliva flow, which naturally washes away bacteria and neutralizes acid.

Block blows to teeth
Unsupervised recreational activities or sports can result in injuries. You can ask your dentist to make a custom-fitted mouth guard, or buy one at a sporting goods’ store that can be softened using hot water to form fit your mouth.

Don’t smoke. But if you have to, use smokeless tobacco
Tobacco stains teeth and significantly increases the risk of gum disease and oral cancer.

Eat smart
A healthy diet is essential to healthy teeth and gums. Some researchers believe that omega-3 fats may reduce inflammation, lowering the risk of gum disease, said Anthony M. Lacopino, DMD, PhD, Dean of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry.

Avoid sugary food
Steven E. Schonfeld, DDS, PhD, American Dental Association spokesperson, says that sugary drinks pose a threat because people tend to sip them, raising acidic levels over a long period of time. Carbonated drinks also increase acidity. Sticky candies, on the other hand, linger on teeth surfaces.

Make an appointment
Experts recommend a dental check-up every six months, more often if you have problems like gum disease. During routine exams, dentists or dental hygienists remove plaque build-up that you can’t brush or floss away and look for signs of decay. Regular dental exams also spot early signs of oral cancer, wear and tear from tooth grinding and interaction with medication.

(Peter Jaret/WebMD)

Milk and Oral Health

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A new study on milk and diet has found that high levels of dairy calcium and serum vitamin D in milk can lead to greater weight loss.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined over a period of two years more than 300 men and women, aged 40-65, who were overweight or at risk of putting on excess weight.

Even with allowance for variables such as age, gender, baseline Body Mass Index and total fat intake, the study concludes that an increased intake of milk – for those already on diets – led to greater weight loss.

The British Dental Health Foundation, the leading oral health charity in the United Kingdom, was quick to say that dentists have been saying all along that milk and water are the only two safe drinks when it comes to maintaining good teeth and general oral health.

Milk, which contains significant amounts of saturated fat, protein and calcium as well as vitamin C, has been reported to reduce the risk of many diseases in babies. Cow milk contains, on average, 3.4 percent protein, 3.6 percent fat, and 4.6 percent lactose, 0.7 percent minerals and supplies 66 kilo calories of energy per 100 grams.

The largest producers of dairy products and milk today are India followed by the United States, Germany and Pakistan.

The top 10 per capita consumers of cow milk and cow milk products in the world are Finland, Sweden, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

French chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur in 1863 invented pasteurization, a method of killing harmful bacteria in beverage and food products. Pasteurization kills harmful microorganisms by heating the milk for a short time and then cooling it for storage and transportation.

Ultra pasteurization, or ultra-high temperature treatment (UHT on your milk labels), heats the milk to a higher temperature for a shorter time that the standard process. This extends its shelf life and allows the milk to be stored unrefrigerated because of the longer lasting sterilization.

“It is not clear if a greater intake of milk and calcium itself helped to increase weight loss, or if it could be down to a reduced calorie intake caused by replacing sugar containing fizzy drinks with milk,” observed Dr. Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation.

But if knowing that milk consumption leads to weight loss encourages more adults to swap sodas and fruit juices for milk, “then in terms of oral health it is definitely a good thing,” he said.

Reducing the intake of drinks that contain high levels of sugar will protect teeth against decay, and drinking less fizzy drinks will help decrease risks of dental erosion, he said in a press statement.

“People often do not realize that it is how often sugar occurs in a diet, rather than how much sugar, that makes the difference to the condition of the teeth,” Dr. Carter pointed out.

“Each time someone eats or drinks something containing sugar, their teeth are under attack for an hour, before the balance in the mouth is corrected,” he said. “Minimizing how often these attacks occur is a vital part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums,” said Dr. Carter whose foundation is an advocate of brushing teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, and visiting a dentist as often as recommended.

How to Preserve Lost Teeth

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THERE is still hope when one or more teeth are suddenly lost in accidents. Chances are, the natural tooth or teeth may be reattached, provided that dental attention is sought within 30 minutes. Before doing that, however, place the tooth or teeth in a glass or container of cold milk, according to Dr. Joseph Orrico, president of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID).

Time is of the essence on replacing teeth this way. “There’s a short window of opportunity in which the remaining living tissue on the root surface can be kept alive,” Dr. Orrico says, adding that milk has a neutral acidity (ph) balance and is fortified with vitamins that make it an excellent preservative.

When tooth or teeth preservation is unsuccessful, a root canal procedure saves the tooth structure and restores it with a crown. That is, when teeth are broken above the gum line. If a tooth is fractured below the gum line, the fragment is extracted and a dental implant, a bridge or a removable dental prosthesis is put in place. Age is a factor in determining which treatment to use because bone loss in the jaw of young people over the years could be significant for young patients with bridges or removable and unsecured prostheses.

In comparison, implants function like natural teeth and preserve the jawbone.

Dental implants are artificial tooth roots made of titanium screws that are inserted into the jawbone and affixed with a prosthetic tooth or crown. It replaces one or more teeth depending on the bone’s ability to support the implants.

In a process called osseointegration, titanium implants fuse naturally with bone over time. Implants function the same way as natural teeth, preventing the jaw structure against atrophy caused by bone loss. While bridgework and dentures may replace missing teeth, they do not prevent bone loss. This is because permanent implants enable a person to maintain his or her chewing functions properly. The action exerts natural forces on the jawbone just like natural teeth do.

Based in Chicago, the AAID is the first organization in the United States dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of implant dentistry by supporting research and education to advance comprehensive implant knowledge. AAID offers a rigorous implant dentistry credentialing program which requires at least 300 hours of post-doctoral instruction in implant dentistry, passing a comprehensive exam and presenting to a group of examiners successful cases of different types of implants.

It is one of the most comprehensive credentialing programs in dentistry.


Dr. Joseph D. Lim is  the Dean of the College of Dentistry, National University, President/CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail jdlim2008@gmail.com or text 0917-8591515