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GENERAL DENTISTRY

 

Diet and Oral Health


To prevent cavities and maintain good oral health, your diet - what you eat and how often you eat - are important factors. Changes in your mouth start the minute you eat certain foods. Bacteria in the mouth convert sugars from the foods you eat to acids, and it's the acids that begin to attack the enamel on teeth, starting the decay process. The more often you eat and snack, the more frequently you are exposing your teeth to the cycle of decay.

Mouth-Healthy Foods and Drinks

The best food choices include cheeses, chicken or other meats, nuts, and milk. These foods are thought to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to remineralize teeth (a natural process by which minerals are redeposited in tooth enamel after being removed from enamel by acids).

Other food choices include firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) and vegetables. These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain, and stimulate the flow of saliva (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering acid). Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and lemons, should be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acidic environment to which your teeth and mouth must be exposed.

Poor food choices include candy - such as lollipops, hard candies, and mints -- cookies, cakes, pies, breads, muffins, potato chips, pretzels, french fries, bananas, raisins and other dried fruits. These foods contain large amounts of sugar and/or can stick to teeth, providing a fuel source for bacteria. In addition, cough drops should be used only when necessary as they, like sugary candy, contribute totooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.

The best beverage choices include water (especially fluoridated water), milk, and unsweetened tea. Limit your consumption of sugar-containing drinks, including soft drinks, lemonade, and coffee or tea with added sugar. Also, avoid day-long sipping of sugar-containing drinks - day-long sipping exposes your teeth to constant sugar and, in turn, constant decay-causing acids.

Sugar Substitutes and Sugar-Free Products

Sugar substitutes are available that look and taste like sugar; however, they are not digested the same way as sugar, so they don't "feed" the bacteria in the mouth and therefore don't produce decay-causing acids. They include: erythritol, isomalt, sorbitol and mannitol. Other sugar substitutes that are available in the U.S. include saccharin, aspartame (marketed as Equal), acesulfame potassium (marketed as Sunett), and sucralose (marketed as Splenda).

Sugarless or sugar-free food sometimes simply means that no sugar was added to the foods during processing. However, this does not mean that the foods do not contain other natural sweeteners, such as honey, molasses, evaporated cane sugar, fructose, barley malt or rice syrup. These natural sweeteners contain the same number of calories as sugar and can be just as harmful to teeth.

To determine if the sugarless or sugar-free foods you buy contain natural sweeteners, examine the ingredients label. Words that end in '-ose' (like sucrose and fructose) indicate the presence of a natural sweetener. On the label, look under sugars or carbohydrates.

Is Chewing Gum OK?

Chewing sugarless gum is actually beneficial to your teeth as chewing helps dislodge food that becomes stuck to your teeth and also increases saliva flow to buffer (neutralize) mouth acids. Gums that contain the sugar substitute xylitol even reduce cavities.


Teeth and Gum Care Tips

Brush your teeth regularly. Brush at least twice a day and preferably after every meal and snack.
Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
Floss at least once a day.
Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings - typically twice a year.
Eat a variety of foods to maintain overall health. Eat fewer foods containing sugars and starches between meals. If you must snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a firm fruit (such as an apple).

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Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are coverings worn over teeth, and often used to protect teeth from injury from teeth grinding and during sports.
There are three types of mouth guards
:


1. Stock mouth protectors are preformed and come ready to wear. They are inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting good stores and department stores. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, they are bulky and make breathing and talking difficult and they provide little or no protection. Dentists do not recommend their use.

2. Boil and bite mouth protectors also can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The "boil and bite" mouth guard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.

3. Custom-fitted mouth protectors are individually designed and made in a dental office or a professional laboratory based on your dentist's instructions. First, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth and a mouth guard is then molded over the model using a special material. Due to the use of the special material and because of the extra time and work involved, this custom-made mouth guard is more expensive than the other types, but it provides the most comfort and best fit and protection.


Generally, mouth guards cover your upper teeth only, but in some instances (such as if you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw), your dentist will make a mouth guard for the lower teeth as well. Your dentist can suggest the best mouth guard for you. An effective mouth guard should be comfortable, resist tears, be durable and easy to clean, and should not restrict your breathing or speech.

If you grind your teeth at night, a special mouth guard-type of dental appliance called a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint -- may be created to prevent tooth damage.

Who Needs a Mouth Guard?

Mouth guards should be used by anyone both children and adults who play contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey. However, even those participating in noncontact sports (for example, gymnastics) and any recreational activity (for example, skateboarding, mountain biking) that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth would benefit from wearing a protective mouth guard.

Adults and children who grind their teeth at night should have a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint made to prevent tooth damage.

Why Use a Mouth Guard When Playing Sports?

Because accidents can happen during any physical activity, the advantage of using a mouth guard is that it can help limit the risk of mouth-related injuries to your lips, tongue, and soft tissues of your mouth. Mouth guards also help you avoid chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth or even tooth loss.


Can I Wear a Mouth Guard if I Wear Braces?

Yes. Since an injury to the face could damage orthodontic brackets or other fixed appliances, a properly fitted mouth guard may be particularly important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. Your dentist or orthodontist can determine the mouth guard that will provide the best protection for your unique mouth work. An important reminder: do not wear any retainers or other removable appliance during any contact sports or during any recreational activities that put your mouth at risk for injury.

How Do I Care for My Mouth Guard?

To care for your mouth guard:

Rinse your mouth guard with cold water or with a mouth rinse before and after each use and/or clean it with toothpaste and a toothbrush.
Occasionally clean the mouthguard in cool, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly.
Place the mouth guard in a firm, perforated container to store or transport it. This permits air circulation and helps to prevent damage.
Protect the mouth guard from high temperatures such as hot water, hot surfaces, or direct sunlight to minimize distorting its shape.
Occasionally check the mouth guard for general wear. If you find holes or tears in it or if it becomes loose or causes discomfort, replace it.
Bring the mouth guard to each regularly scheduled dental visit to have your dentist exam it.

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