The dentist chair is not typically a place to discuss major life milestones. But it seems to work for this writer. (Citizen file)

Ask a Dentist: Dental Habits – Who Needs Them?

Life is full of behaviours that may be termed ‘habits’. Taking care of our teeth is one of the most habitual things humans do daily. Few people deny being advised to brush daily, and many dentists recommend brushing twice and flossing once per day as a minimum. Teeth fall out, they get knocked out, some need straightening, and for the most part we somehow reach adulthood with most of our teeth intact. If we continue taking care of our teeth, we can combat the most serious enemy of oral health – sugars and starches. Starch converts to sugar. We consume sugar and starch in many foods we eat.

We have opportunities to ‘graze’ while shopping at the big box stores, or at work/school/play/social gatherings. Our physicians advocate balanced food intake, and it isn’t only sugar that is a concern – acidic content can be as bad. Some of the soda drinks/Monster Drinks/sweetened water contain acid that may be harmful to our teeth, and play havoc with our blood sugar levels as well. Other foods contain glucose and other harmful ingredients to alarming levels. I had a recent patient with seemingly ‘good’ teeth (some veneers and crowns) quit smoking. He substituted a package of lozenges daily, and developed over a dozen gum line cavities which was his total surprise. Food of all sorts has become a stress reliever.

Mineral deficiency does affect hard structures such as our teeth and our bones. Vitamin deficiency is hazardous to soft tissues, like the gums. Vitamin B deficiency may be caused by digestive disorders or restrictive diets. Vitamin D shortages contribute to the calcification and loss of strength to bone and teeth.

Poor nutrition, and even malnutrition (common these days), may cause oral soreness and painful lesions. The best diet is always one from all major food groups. One cannot discount the content of some of the food/exercise supplements that are very popular today, as they too can cause erosion on our teeth. If the habits for oral health care taught at preschool age are not ingrained, some ‘adult’ habits taken on later will certainly imperil your teeth. If anything goes into your mouth (other than water), teeth should be flossed and brushed.

Fast Forward to Adulthood – those of us who should know better. From our 20s through our 40s, our mouths may not require more than annual checkups and some maintenance.

Most adults have some fillings, perhaps a root canal or more, and accidents or injuries may have contributed to a tooth being replaced over the years. One common dental problem in older adults is gum recession. This is encouraged by lack of rudimentary care, or bacteria which causes inflammation of the gum tissue. The problem may be greater than a visual receding of gums, as this gum infection increases the inflammatory markers in blood vessels and arteries which put those affected at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. If that were not enough, it has been linked to memory problems and is present in Alzheimer’s patients.

Gum disease spreads infection throughout the rest of the body, not just in the jaw or mouth. If gum disease has resulted in an increase of lost teeth, this is both a practical as well as a social problem. Adults who lose teeth usually request a replacement, which might be a bridge, or an implant. The cost of these products may be higher than anticipated. In addition, medical researchers are attempting to link gum disease to various cancers. In the dental operatory we often hear patients saying if they had any idea that dental maintenance was so important they would have been more diligent decades ago.

Let’s recap. The aforementioned discusses a perfect world. Even some dentists don’t find the time to comply. Worst case scenario arm yourself with a ‘Splash and Dash’ Kit – some floss sticks for mid-day followed by rinsing your mouth out. Teach young children good habits. Use a timer in the bathroom (perhaps with a little song on it) and encourage 2-minute brushing (30 seconds is average). Teach them to floss, and use floss sticks for dexterity problems. Limit snacking (for all ages), and this includes soft drinks and juice boxes. Eat to live, but don’t forget oral maintenance habits. If caring for a senior parent, get them into a dentist annually – and they may continue to use most of the teeth they were initially issued!

Dr. Michael Dolynchuk is a General Dentist practicing in Caroline and Red Deer. Forward inquiries to:

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