Smiling with Diabetes: Still Keep Your Teeth Healthy

diabetes-and-oral-health_65770553_webLiving with diabetes requires a lot of medications, devices and checkups. It can be expensive. And while a lot can be done to manage it, it can do some wonky and unpredictable things. For example, a person with diabetes might experience dropping blood sugar levels, so she keeps eating, and then her blood sugar all of a sudden spikes.

Diabetes can also be hard on the teeth.

Gum Disease and Diabetes: A Dangerous Synergy

According to the American Diabetes Association, poor oral health can make it harder for a person with diabetes to control their blood sugar. And unpredictable blood sugar can make it harder to maintain good oral health. As a result, diabetes can wreak havoc on teeth. Some of the problems it can cause include:

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Loss in Taste
  • Cavities
  • Gum disease, from gingivitis to periodontitis
  • Fungal infections like thrush, in which white patches form on the mouth or tongue that can become sores

If you have diabetes, you can take these steps to prevent serious gum disease.

Four Steps You Can Take to Prevent Serious Gum Disease

  1. Brush twice a day and floss daily. This is, of course, a routine everyone should have. But if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, neglecting to brush twice a day and floss daily can have more severe consequences.
  2. Consider a prescription mouthwash. Obviously, a dentist would have to prescribe this, but a prescription mouthwash contains chlorhexidine, a chemical compound that kills more bacteria than over-the-counter mouthwashes.
  3. Keep your dentist and hygienist in the loop about your diabetes. Schedule regular appointments with them. Make sure especially to keep them posted about what types of medication you’re taking.
  4. Keep blood sugar levels under control. Diabetes puts you at a higher risk of infection and can slow your body’s recovery processes. If you eat before a dentist visit — or at least ensure you have proper blood sugar levels — you have less chance of complications. The same goes for oral surgery. Blood sugar may be harder to control after surgery. According to the National Health Service, a healthy range is between 6 and 10 millimoles per liter (although 4 to 12 is acceptable).

Diabetes: Growing at an Epidemic Rate

Going state by state, the American Diabetes Association reveals diabetes is growing at an epidemic rate in the United States. Nearly 30 million Americans have been diagnosed.

With diabetes, you never get a break. And the exact same routine one day can produce a totally different result the next. Diabetes is hard.

It’s no surprise, then, the theme for National Diabetes Month 2016 is Managing Diabetes — It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth It.

This October, in honor of National Diabetes Month, don’t let diabetes turn your smile into a frown. You can still keep your teeth healthy. It’s worth it.

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Are You Using Your Teeth for the Wrong Reason?

third-hand-adv-twitterRecently, I moved. The house is older, so instead of a closet, a six-foot section of wall is set back where a cabinet for clothing could go. The other day, my dad helped me install wire shelving. It was fairly straightforward: He held the shelving up, I used a level, and then I drilled in an anchor screw. During the process, I was tempted to hold the anchor screw with my teeth.

Luckily, I remembered: Teeth do not make a good “third hand.”

Five Reasons Your Teeth Don’t Make a Good “Third Hand”

It’s easy, with home projects, to bite off more than we can chew. We might need an extra hand, so we’re tempted to use our teeth to hold a non-food object. But teeth don’t make a good “third hand” for the following five reasons:

  1. Biting down on non-food objects can crack enamel. When you chomp down on non-food objects — anchor screws, sewing needles, pencils — it’s easy to forget just how much pressure gets put on the teeth. One study suggests humans can bite with a force equivalent to about 265 pounds. In my case, I probably wouldn’t have exerted that kind of pressure on an anchor screw. But one surprise jolt is all it would take to crack enamel.
  2. Your teeth are at risk of shifting. For a similar reason to why braces straighten crooked teeth, a non-food object can shift straight teeth. In the case of braces, wiring applies pressure to the teeth, which straightens them over time. But with non-food objects, undue pressure is being placed on just one tooth. Over time, that one tooth can shift.
  3. You risk damaging other dental work that’s already been done. When you use your teeth as a “third hand,” you risk cracking fillings, which aren’t as strong as enamel, or damaging other dental work that’s already been done.
  4. You expose yourself to a choking hazard. One hiccup or yawn and the object could become lodged in your throat. With anchor screws, maybe not so much. But for something smaller, like a sewing needle, yes.
  5. Biting down on non-food objects over time can be noticeable. For people who bite down on non-food objects out of habit, the damage can even have a noticeable effect. A seamstress might have small ridges or grooves worn into teeth over an extended period of time from holding sewing needles. The same goes for construction workers with nails.

But you might be guilty of something worse than using teeth as a “third hand.”

What’s Worse than Using Teeth as a “Third Hand”?

All of us have probably used our teeth to tear electrical tape, or strip insulation from copper wiring, or snap plastic label tags from clothes, or pop a pull tab on a can of soda. But each of these actions — using teeth as scissors, wire strippers or bottle openers — is far worse than using teeth as a “third hand.”

When we use our teeth as a “third hand” for non-food objects, we might unconsciously place too much pressure on our teeth. But when we use our teeth to tear, strip, snap or pop, we consciously exert an undue pressure on our teeth.

Yes, it might not be super convenient to find the scissors, but in the long run, grabbing the proper tools will be better.

Not Just Limited to Non-Food Objects

Do you know the Tootsie Pop commercial, with Mr. Owl’s sage advice to the question “How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop?” Mr. Owl knows, intrinsically, most of us aren’t patient enough to handle hard candy in a manner that’s best for our teeth.

Hard candy, ice cubes and shelled foods can pose just as much a threat to teeth as common nails, needles and screws. The temptation can sometimes be there — with nuts and other shelled foods (like crab legs or lobster tail) — to use our teeth as a nut- or seafood-cracker.

At Delta Dental, we are committed to protecting smiles. And one of the easiest ways to protect your smile is to use your teeth for their intended purposes. Next time you might be tempted to use your teeth as a “third hand,” use the proper tools instead. You’ll be well on your way to maintaining an attractive smile for a long time.

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In 1492, How Did Columbus’ Teeth Do?

columbusa1In 1492 / Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

Even today, you probably still have those two lines from Jean Marzollo’s poem memorized.

Unfortunately, the poem doesn’t let us know about Columbus’ teeth.

That’s ok, because we can garner some insight from other poems. Take Geoffrey’s Chaucer’s prologue of The Canterbury Tales, for example:

When the West Wind also with its sweet breath / In every wood and field has breathed life into…

We can infer “sweet breath” was important to people in the Middle Ages. And, thanks to the poem “O How Sweet the Breeze of April” by Arnaud de Marveil, we can also infer “snow-white teeth.”

But if teeth were important to people in the Middle Ages…

How Did They Take Care of Their Teeth?

We have a few clues about how people in the Middle Ages took care of their teeth. For example, this page recounts how one woman, Jennifer A. Heise, tried several medieval tooth powders and rubs.

Fresh Breath Powders

Heise points us to two types of powders mentioned in Gilbertus Anglicus’ Compendium of Medicine:

“And let him use this powder: Take of pepper, one ounce; and of mint, as much; and of rock salt, as much. And make him to chew this powder a good while in his mouth, and then swallow it down.”

“And let him use these pills that are good for all manner of stinking of the mouth: Take of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace, eight drams; of red sandlewood, ten drams; of quibibis, seven drams; of cardamom, five drams. Mix them with the juice of mint and make pills of the size of a fig. And let him to have two of them under either side of his tongue at once.”

In both cases, Heise described a burning sensation. But for the spice balls — the one with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace — she said her breath was noticeably sweeter.

Tooth Rubs

Gilbertus Anglicus also wrote about tooth rubs:

“. . . let the mouth be washed with wine that birch or mint has simmered in. And let the gums be well rubbed with a sharp linen cloth until they bleed…And let him rub well his teeth with the chewed herbs and also his gums. . . .”

Heise reports her teeth did feel cleaner and less gummy afterward.

What Can We Learn from the People in the Middle Ages?

Obviously, today, we don’t use the same tooth powders or rubs as people in the Middle Age. Yet, while those aren’t the same as squeezing a dab of toothpaste onto a toothbrush, and brushing in short, circular strokes for two minutes, we can still take away some oral hygiene pointers of our own.

We are what we eat. This answer to a Quora question credits better teeth to diet. For example, during the Middle Ages, most people couldn’t afford sugar. According to this medieval sourcebook, sugar cost 1 to 3 shillings a pound, and the average family budgeted 600 to 2,000 shillings a year on meals (anywhere from two to six shillings a day). As a result, people used sugar sparingly, if at all. This helped their teeth a lot, as sugar can act as a stimulant for plaque.

To prevent disease, get into a tooth-cleaning routine. “And after every meal, let him wash well his mouth and rub well his gums and his teeth so that no corrupt matter abides among the teeth.” There’s a lot we can take to heart from Gilbertus Anglicus.

This Columbus Day, as we reflect on Columbus and other medieval forefathers, let’s remember our own snowy-whites, keep our breath smelling sweet and keep our teeth free of plaque.

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Why the Truth about Fish Oil Will Have You Tearing Up

fish-oil-aUsually, when we say something is fishy, we mean there’s more to it than meets the eye. Or that we smell a tuna sandwich nearby.

When it comes to fish oil, there may not be more than meets the eye, but it definitely meets the eye.

You’ve probably already heard several of the benefits to popping a fish oil tablet once a day:

  • Heart health, as fish oil promotes a good blood cholesterol profile
  • Bone health, part of which can include improving joint pain
  • Stroke prevention
  • Wrinkle prevention
  • Hair thickening

Now, you can add eye health to that list.

Fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): omega-3 fatty acids that produce better tears. And tears play an important role in our eye health.

Go Ahead, Cry

Usually, when we think of tears, we think of emotional tears — the kind caused by pain, grief or watching Brian’s Song.

But tears play an even broader role for our vision.

Tears keep our eyes wet and nourished. When we blink, tears cover our cornea, ensuring our cornea is always wet and nourished.

Tears flush out unwanted substances. During family vacation this summer, did you end up with suntan lotion in your eyes? It probably resulted in you tearing up. Or have you ever touched your eyes after handling a jalapeño? Definitely resulted in tears.

Some people, however, don’t have the luxury of readily available tears. These people suffer from dry eye syndrome.

Dry Eye Syndrome: The Nemesis of Tears

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition in which a person either

  • doesn’t produce enough tears or
  • produces tears that evaporate too quickly.

Not only can this be uncomfortable, it can lead to irritation, infection or — worse — future vision problems.

Dry eye syndrome is often a result of growing older — it affects about 70 percent of older people — but other culprits could include allergies, or chronic pink eye from tobacco smoke exposure.

Although fish oil may not be a cure-all for dry eye syndrome — other treatments like artificial tears may be required — it can certainly facilitate recovery.

How much fish oil you take depends on your condition. Generally, 500 mg to 1,000 mg a day is sufficient, though the dosage may be upped depending on dry eye severity. Many grocery stores offer supplements with 1,200-mg to 1,350-mg softgel tablets, so getting the recommended dosage probably won’t be too difficult to find.

Celebrate See-food Month

This October, to celebrate seafood month, go ahead and give fish oil a try.

If you want the benefits of fish oil, but don’t want to take a softgel tablet, you can grill it in your diet. At least three times a week, schedule grilled salmon, tuna, halibut or cod. If none of those options sound good, you have tons of fish to choose from.

It just might leave you crying tears of joy.

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Bad Beans: Why Coffee Can Hurt Your Smile (and What You Can Do About It)

coffee_70116983-900Each morning, entering the office, I fetch my “Good health starts here” travel mug and pour myself some coffee. To me, the habit isn’t entirely out of choice — read: excruciating caffeine withdrawals otherwise — but the antioxidants and beneficial nutrients in coffee are certainly a perk.

The benefits to drinking coffee are many. Coffee can:

Unfortunately, coffee and teeth don’t go well together. You might even say coffee has stained its reputation with teeth.

Why Coffee Stains Teeth

If you were to magnify the tooth — enough to see the enamel — you’d discover a tooth isn’t made up of a single piece of enamel. It’s made up of many enamel rods. And we mean many: One tooth can contain anywhere from 5 million to 12 million enamel rods.

On the surface of the tooth, the rods run parallel to one another, but deep down, they wind together.

As it pertains to coffee — imagine enamel rods like bristles on a brush, just crystallized (because an enamel rod is a tightly packed mass of hydroxyapatite crystals).

Now, imagine coffee seeping between the bristles. That’s kind of what happens with teeth, except it’s the pigment from coffee embedding itself in the rows of enamel rods. The pigment is responsible for the discoloration.

And, unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there.

More Bad News

  • If you prefer your coffee hot, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Hot drinks tend to discolor enamel over time, as the temperature changes cause teeth to expand and contract slightly. This can make it easier for dark stains to penetrate between enamel rods.
  • And no, it doesn’t help if you’ve lightened the color of the coffee with creamer and sugar; the coffee still contains the same pigments.
  • Stains don’t just apply to coffee, either. For example, tea, red wine and soda can also stain teeth. In fact, some tea — like green and black tea — can stain teeth worse than coffee, because it contains higher amounts of tannins. Tannins are chemical compounds known for having a calming effect, but they also get stuck between enamel rods.

So what does this mean for your future with coffee? If you’re like me, giving up coffee isn’t an option — read: excruciating caffeine withdrawals.

Luckily, you have some other options. Five steps you can take include:

Five Steps You Can Take to Lessen Coffee Stains

  1. Drink through a straw. While the amount of sugar in your Starbucks Frappuccino is nothing to smile about, the straw it comes with might be. Drinking through a straw lessens the contact of coffee with your teeth, and can cut down on staining.
  2. Rinse your mouth after you drink coffee. By rinsing your mouth out with water, you can neutralize your mouth’s pH levels. You can also use antibacterial mouthwash to loosen up particles on the teeth.
  3. Wait 30 minutes before brushing. It’s a good idea to wait 30 minutes after drinking coffee before brushing. Otherwise, you’ll dig acids deeper into your enamel.
  4. Have a brushing routine. Brushing and flossing twice a day can cut down on tooth stains.
  5. Schedule a professional cleaning once every six months. Your dentist can polish away built up stains, brightening your smile.

Coffee can be hard on the teeth. But it can be even harder to give up. And with September 29 being National Coffee Day, we don’t want to downplay the real benefits of drinking coffee in moderation. So wake up, smell the coffee and take the steps you need to protect your smile.

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Don’t Brush It Off: This Self-Improvement Month, Improve Your Brushing Technique

self-improvement-a2September has been designated National Self-Improvement Month. And though the designation has proven surprisingly difficult to substantiate — the National Day Calendar listed its history as “To Be Researched” — a little self-improvement never hurt.

In fact, you might expect the exact opposite.

When it comes to dental hygiene, brushing and flossing are some of the most important routines for your smile, yet they could possibly use a little improvement.

Why You Need to Brush and Floss

Brushing and flossing can remove plaque, tartar and stains. These three culprits can cause problems of all sorts:

  1. Cavities
  2. Gum disease, like gingivitis or periodontitis
  3. Weakened tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to chips or cracks

Conditions like these can wreak havoc on your smile. But the issues don’t stop there.

In fact, here’s a saying worth remembering:

You can’t spell overall without oral.

As in, oral health directly affects overall wellness.

Bad oral health doesn’t just put you at risk for cavities, gum disease, and weakened tooth enamel; it can increase risks for serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The solution, of course, is brushing and flossing, but only when done so properly. There are a few improper ways of going about them:

Three Wrong Ways to Brush

  1. Brushing with force. Brushing too hard might make you feel like you’re getting your teeth extra clean, but your teeth won’t be thanking you. Using too much force can lead to tooth abrasion, little notches in the teeth near the gums.
  2. Starting in the same place every time. Usually, when something is routine, the tendency is to start in the exact same place every single time. For brushing, this isn’t necessarily the best technique. It takes two minutes to brush your teeth. When you start, the first tooth has your full attention. But by the time you’ve reached 1:45, you might be thinking about that board meeting you have in an hour. For more evenly-cleaned teeth, consider a new first tooth each time you brush.
  3. Leaving your toothbrush on a bathroom sink or counter. This isn’t really a brushing technique, but it can defeat an otherwise perfect routine. Your bathroom isn’t the exactly the cleanest room in your house — to avoid getting too “potty” mouthed about it — so your toothbrush is susceptible to germs if you park it there. Should you keep your toothbrush in the bathroom, at least put it in a holder where it can air-dry, and where the bristles won’t touch the germy sink or counter. Pro-tip: If you’re on vacation and using a travel bag, don’t store the toothbrush while it’s damp, as bacteria can grow on a moist toothbrush.

Two Wrong Ways to Floss

  1. Flossing too fast. Save for not flossing at all, rushed flossing may be a worst practice, as one up-and-down between your teeth might miss some food particles and won’t get under the gumline as effectively.
  2. Stopping at the sight of blood. If your gums start to bleed, it’s probably due to inflammation from bacteria that’s gotten into them. If you stop at the sight of blood, the bacteria wins, and the inflammation could grow worse.

At this point, it may feel like there’s a whole lot wrong with the world: diseases that want to rob you of your wellness, and wrong techniques that could prevent you from fighting them.

But September is self-improvement month, and there’s love at the end of the day. Here’s how you can improve your brushing and flossing techniques.

Six Steps for Better Brushing

  1. Place your toothbrush bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline
  2. Use just enough pressure to feel bristles against your gums and between teeth. Don’t squish the bristles
  3. Brush all inner and outer tooth surfaces several times, using short, circular strokes. Be sure to brush along the gumline as well
  4. Brush chewing surfaces straight on. Clean the inside surfaces of front teeth by tilting the brush vertically and making up-and-down strokes with the front of the brush
  5. Clean only one or two teeth at a time
  6. Brush your tongue, as oral bacteria can remain in taste buds

Five Steps for Flossing

  1. Start with an 18-inch strand of floss. Wind most of it around one of your middle fingers and the rest around the same finger on your other hand
  2. Tighten floss with about an inch of floss between your hands. Glide floss between teeth with a gentle sawing motion
  3. Curve it into a C against your tooth
  4. Hold the floss against each tooth, gently scraping the tooth’s side while moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on all teeth. Don’t forget the back ones
  5. Rinse to remove any loosened plaque and food particles

For #SelfImprovementMonth this September, we’re brushing up on our brushing and flossing technique. What have you been doing to improve yourself?

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This Healthy Aging Month, Keep Your Smile Youthful

oral-health-aging-blogWhen you smile, you add years to your life.

At least according to research conducted in 2010 at Wayne University, which says people who smile genuinely and have more laughter lines generally have better long-term health.

Unfortunately, getting older can come with complications that interrupt a healthy oral routine.

Have These Complications Compromised Your Healthy Routine?

Three complications you have or will likely encounter as you get older, along with how they might affect your routine, include:

  1. You have to take new medications. The older you get, the more likely your doctor will prescribe you some sort of medication. But many prescription drugs can dry out the mouth. Because saliva helps to combat harmful germs, this can put you at risk of tooth decay.
  2. Your hands aren’t as mobile as they used to be. With older age comes an increased risk of broken down cartilage tissue, otherwise known as arthritis. In fact, almost half of adults 65 or older have arthritis. This can make important routine tasks, like flossing, difficult.
  3. You might need partial dentures. When it comes to partial dentures —removable replacement teeth attached to a metal framework and held in place by metal clasps — partial dentures have many advantages: They can keep teeth in place, they can assist with speaking and chewing, and they can improve your smile. But they can also be a breeding ground for plaque, as plaque can build up around the metal clasps.

It’s true — all three of these are a part of getting older. But you don’t have to let them get in your way of good oral hygiene. Here’s what you can do.

Six Solutions to Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene at an Older Age

  1. Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can rinse away food particles that have stuck around, and ensure proper saliva production. If you’re on several types of medication, you’ll want to keep the latter in mind, as the medications might dry out your mouth. Pro-tip: When you drink water, try to drink tap water. Tap water contains fluoride, which strengthens enamel and can protect your teeth against plaque and other malignant bacteria.
  2. Eat healthy. Cut sugar and white flour from your diet. Replace these with fruits and vegetables like pears, apples, carrots and celery, which can stimulate the gums or at least prevent them from receding. Foods rich in protein like cheese and nuts can restore proper pH levels in your mouth.
  3. Brush twice a day. This is something everybody should do, regardless of age. But it might have a more noticeable impact on you, especially if you wear partial dentures. With partial dentures, the remaining teeth near the clasps are especially susceptible to plaque. Give them some extra attention when you brush.
  4. Floss daily. Again, this is something everybody should do. If wrapping floss around your fingers proves too difficult, consider a Y- or U-shaped floss holder — a pre-threaded device you can use for farther reach and easier maneuverability.
  5. Take proper care of dentures. Rinse food particles from dentures, then brush them with a denture brush. Because dentures are made with acrylic plastic or porcelain, they are susceptible to scratches. Denture brushes have softer bristles, so they can prevent scratches. Brushing dentures regularly can prevent them from becoming stained, thus giving you a more attractive smile.
  6. Visit your dentist. Schedule at least two checkups a year with your dentist. Communicate the kinds of medication you are taking, and any issues with your gums and teeth.

September is healthy aging month. And while you’re never too old to find a new career, sport, passion or hobby, getting older can come with complications that might demand more of you from your healthy oral routines. But that’s no reason to stop practicing good oral hygiene. No matter your age, give people a smile that shines!

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