Many recent high school graduates will soon begin their first year in college, and for many it will be their first time living away from home. But with the excitement of new freedom, there’s also the opportunity to make poor choices that could impact long-term health, especially teeth and gums.
Here, then, are 5 tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy during the college years.
Watch what you eat and drink. At any stage of life, a nutritious, balanced diet low in sugar and high in fiber is vital to a healthy mouth. Snack moderately on fresh fruit, nuts or dairy foods, not sugary, processed products. Be sure also to drink plenty of water for hydration, not sodas or sports drinks whose high acid content can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.
Don’t abuse alcohol or use tobacco. Consuming too much alcohol can do more than leave you momentarily impaired — it can cause dry mouth, which contributes to tooth decay and increases your risk of oral cancer. Any form of tobacco can raise your risk for disease, especially oral cancer; high levels of nicotine may also inhibit your gum’s ability to fight infection, which increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Avoid oral piercings. Those tiny pieces of hardware attached to lips, tongue, gums or even through teeth may be all the rage, but they’re a recipe for immediate and future mouth problems. Oral piercings can lead to chipped teeth, gum recession and a higher chance of dental disease.
Practice safe sex. Certain sexual behaviors can raise your risk of contracting human papilloma virus (HPV16) that in turn increases your risk of oral cancer. You can also develop genital herpes in the mouth, which although manageable won’t go away.
Keep up your oral hygiene care. Taking care of your teeth and gums is a permanent, daily concern. Whatever your college schedule, be sure you’re brushing once or twice a day and flossing once. And don’t forget to visit us at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning (to get plaque you can’t reach with daily hygiene) and a checkup to keep dental disease under control.
Removing plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth, daily is crucial in preventing dental disease, but is your brushing and flossing making enough of a difference?
Plaque forms every day in our mouths as a result of eating. The bacteria in it produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Certain strains can also infect the gums and cause periodontal (gum) disease. Either of these primary diseases could lead to tooth loss.
Daily plaque removal with brushing and flossing keeps bacteria growth under control, so a quick swish of your toothbrush across your teeth won't be enough. Plaque's soft, sticky consistency enables it to hide in hard to reach places below the gum line, irregular biting surfaces, or in fillings or other dental work.
Because it's virtually invisible, it's hard to tell if you've successfully removed it. That's where disclosing agents can help. These are solutions, swabs or tablets with a dye that temporarily stains plaque while not staining tooth surfaces. Dental hygienists use them to show patients where they're missing plaque when brushing and flossing, but you can also use them at home to see how you're doing between dental visits.
After brushing and flossing, use the disclosure product according to the package directions. If you're using a solution, for example, swish it around in your mouth for about thirty seconds and then spit it out. The dye reacts with leftover plaque to stain it a bright color. Some products even offer a two-tone dye that displays older plaque in a different color from newer plaque.
After noticing the dyed plaque in a mirror, brush and floss until you don't see it anymore. You may have to change your approach, which will help you perform better in the future. Although safe in the mouth, you should still avoid swallowing the agent or getting it on your clothes. Any on your lips, gums or tongue will eventually wear off in a few hours.
A disclosing agent gives you a snapshot of where you need to improve your oral hygiene. Occasional “spot checks” will help keep your brushing and flossing well tuned.
Like most people, you’ve no doubt experienced occasional dry mouth as when you’re thirsty or just waking from sleep. These are normal occurrences that usually don’t last long.
But xerostomia or chronic dry mouth is another matter. Not only is this continual lack of adequate saliva uncomfortable, it could increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
What’s more, chronic dry mouth can have a number of causes. Here are 3 common causes and what you can do about them.
Inadequate fluid intake. While this may seem obvious, it’s still common—you’re simply not consuming enough water. This deprives the salivary glands of adequate fluid to produce the necessary amount of saliva. If you’re regularly thirsty, you’ll need to increase the amount of water you drink during the day.
Medications. More than 500 drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. This is one reason why older adults, who on average take more medications, have increased problems with dry mouth. There are some things you can do: first, talk with your healthcare provider about alternative drugs for your condition that are less likely to cause dry mouth; drink more water right before taking your medication and right afterward; and increase your daily intake of water.
Diseases and treatments. Some systemic diseases like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease can lead to xerostomia. Autoimmune conditions are especially problematic because the body may turn on its own tissues, the salivary glands being a common target. Radiation or chemotherapy treatments can also damage the glands and lead to decreased saliva production. If you have such a condition, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to protect your salivary glands.
You can also ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters like xylitol gum or medications that stimulate saliva production. Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks and sugary or acidic foods. And be sure you stay diligent with your oral hygiene habits and regular dental visits to further reduce your risks of dental disease.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
We all experience the occasional bout of bad breath from dry mouth or after eating certain foods. Chronic halitosis, on the other hand, could have an underlying health cause like periodontal (gum) disease, sinus infections or even systemic illnesses like diabetes. Anyone with persistent halitosis should undergo a thorough examination to determine the root cause.
If such an examination rules out a more serious cause, it’s then possible the particular population of bacteria that inhabit your mouth (out of a possible 600 or more strains) and your body’s response makes you more susceptible to halitosis. After feeding on food remnants, dead skin cells or post-nasal drip, certain types of bacteria excrete volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give off an odor similar to “rotten eggs.”
In this case, we want to reduce the bacterial population through plaque removal, which in turn reduces the levels of VSCs. Our approach then is effective oral hygiene and perhaps a few cleanings — the basics every person should practice for good oral health — along with a few extra measures specific to chronic halitosis.
This calls for brushing and flossing your teeth daily. This will remove much of the plaque, the main breeding and feeding ground for bacteria, that has accumulated over the preceding twenty-four hours. In some cases, we may also recommend the use of an interproximal brush that is more adept in removing plaque clinging to areas between the teeth.
You may also need to pay special attention in cleaning another oral structure contributing to your bad breath — your tongue. The back of the tongue in particular is a “hideout” for bacteria: relatively dry and poorly cleansed because of its convoluted microscopic structure, bacteria often thrive undisturbed under a continually-forming tongue coating. Simply brushing the tongue may not be enough — you may also need to use a tongue scraper, a dental device that removes this coating. (For more information, see the Dear Doctor article, “Tongue Scraping.”)
Last but not least, visit our office for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. Professional cleanings remove bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) you’re unable to reach and remove with daily hygiene measures. Following this and the other steps described above will go a long way toward eliminating your bad breath, as well as enhancing your total oral health.
If you would like more information on treating chronic bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
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