Halloween Candy is not the Culprit

Halloween and candy have become synonymous.  As a dentist, one would expect me to rail against the evils of sugar. While the fermentable sugar in most candies is cavity causing (cariogenic), there are other factors in the equation of cavity formation: immune response and home care being very important too.  But frequency of consumption is also a major factor, for with each incident of eating fermentable sugar, such as sucrose, the bacteria in your mouth produce acid which lasts about twenty minutes.  This acid attacks the tooth to cause the hole known as a cavity. It would be better to eat 10 lbs of candy in one sitting, then to have one little candy bar and break off a piece and eat it (20 minutes of acid attack), and then break off another piece an hour later and eat it(20 more minutes of acid attack, and then have another piece an hour later (20 more minutes of acid attack)…well you get the picture. It is frequency, not quantity that counts with respect to caries (the disease process causing cavities). Now, despite this, the acid production can be minimized by good flossing, and brushing after eating sugary substances.  So enjoy your Halloween candy: just eat it with less frequency, and brush afterwards!

Gastric Reflux and your teeth

Gastric reflux can have a negative impact on oral health.  While soft tissues can try to heal after an acid burn, hard tissues such as the enamel of your teeth, are dissolved away irreparably through acid erosion.  Patients who have been diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) at least should be aware of the possibility of enamel loss, though prescription and over-the-count medications can help control and even prevent  the damage.  But what about patients who have not been diagnosed with GERD? Does this mean they are not at risk of enamel erosion.  Unfortunatley, some patients have low enough levels of reflux which do not seem to warrant a diagnosis of GERD, and yet show the dental evidence of acid erosion.  The acid causing the erosion can be from internal causes such as builimia or reflux disorders, or external, such as the large consumption of acidic beverages such as soda.  Discounting external sources (not many people drink several cans of soda every day, or suck on lemons regularly) many patients show the dental signs of erosion which can be attributed to low level, and sometimes undiagnosed, reflux problems.

What is important is that unlike the soft tissues of the body which can replenish itself, once enamel is eroded away it is gone for good.  The danger then, is when the erosion becomes so severe; it jeopardizes the health of the tooth.  As the erosion progresses, it encroaches upon the pulp, or “nerve” of the tooth.  If the nerve gets irritated or dies, it will need a root canal, which in turn necessitates a crown (cap) for the tooth.  So what begins as a little notch of erosion can end up killing the tooth and becomes quite costly.  Most frequently, the erosions are seen by the gumline where the enamel is thinnest and most vulnerable to erosion.  These notched surfaces can reasonably treated when small by placing a filling, typically a tooth colored bonded composite restoration, or “bonding” for short. In addition, your doctor may recommend a medication to control and prevent the release of stomach acids.  The use of antacids is of little benefit in prevention, but may be of value when a person is aware of the presence of acid in the mouth.

It is important then, to see your dentist, in addition to your gastroenterologist to make sure all is being done to prevent damage to your teeth.

Good News for Pregnant Women

The ADA reported on recommendations made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in which they advised it is safe for pregnant women to see their dentists during their pregnancy.  This includes routine cleanings, X-rays,  fillings, and treatments such as root canals and extractions.  In addition, dental anesthetics, with or without epinephrine have been deemed safe during pregnancy.

Oral health is important, and disease should not be left untreated.  Some oral diseases are transmissible, such as caries, which can be passed from mother to infant. Delaying treatment can cause increased problems and costs.  Early prevention is always advisable. A healthy mother has a better chance of having a healthy baby!