Posts for tag: nutrition
Refined sugar is a prime food source for disease-causing oral bacteria. As bacteria consume sugar they produce high levels of acid that over time can erode enamel and leave a tooth vulnerable for decay.
The solution to stopping this vicious process is simple: cut back on eating refined sugar. The reality, though, is a bit more complicated. Many of us seem genetically hard-wired with a “sweet tooth,” perhaps a remnant of our early ancestors' sense that sweet foods were a safe means to obtain energy.
Food manufacturers likewise don't help with making this dietary change — the number of items with added sugar has ballooned over the last several decades. We can trace a lot of this back to the unintended consequences of past government guidelines that called for removing fat from processed foods. But this also removed flavor, so manufacturers began adding sugar (under a myriad of names) to compensate.
Sugar consumption is now a hot health topic for its suspected connection with inflammatory diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as dental health. We now have a love-hate relationship with sugar — we want to show it the door but we can't quite bring ourselves to let it go.
The situation has created a market for artificial sweeteners. The amount and types of sugar alternatives has exploded since saccharine first emerged in the early 1960s. With these increased choices, though, there have also been increased concerns over their health impact, including in the mouth.
This concern has prompted numerous research studies. The conclusion: artificial sweeteners don't adversely affect the health of most people. And, from a dental perspective, artificial sweeteners can have a positive impact on teeth and gum health because unlike refined sugar they don't promote oral bacterial growth.
In fact, one particular sweetener may be even more beneficial to your teeth: xylitol. This sweetener, which comes from a sugar alcohol that oral bacteria can't digest, is often found in chewing gums, hard candies or mints. Â In effect, xylitol “starves out” bacteria to help prevent tooth decay.
From a dental perspective, replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener (especially xylitol) can be advantageous. And less sugar could mean more good news after your next dental checkup.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Sports drinks have been widely touted as an ideal way to replenish carbohydrates, electrolytes and, of course, fluids after a strenuous event or workout. But the mixtures of many popular brands often contain acid and added sugar, similar to other types of soft drinks. This can create an acidic environment in the mouth that can be damaging to tooth enamel.
Of course, the best way to replenish fluids after most strenuous activities is nature’s hydrator, water. If, however, you or a family member does drink the occasional sports beverage, you can help reduce the acid impact and help protect tooth enamel by following these 3 tips.
Avoid sipping a sports drink over long periods. Sipping on a drink constantly for hours interferes with saliva, the bodily fluid responsible for neutralizing mouth acid. But because the process can take thirty minutes to an hour to bring the mouth to a normal pH, saliva may not be able to complete neutralization because of the constant presence of acid caused by sipping. It’s best then to limit sports drinks to set periods or preferably during mealtimes.
Rinse your mouth out with water after drinking.Â Enamel damage occurs after extended periods of exposure to acid. Rinsing your mouth out immediately after consuming a sports drink will wash away a good amount of any remaining acid and help normalize your mouth’s pH level. And since water has a neutral pH, it won’t add to the acid levels.
Wait an hour to brush after eating. As mentioned before, saliva takes time to neutralize mouth acid. Even in that short period of time, though, acid can soften some of the mineral content in enamel. If you brush during this “soft” period, you may inadvertently brush away some of the minerals. By waiting an hour, you give saliva time not only to neutralize acid but also restore mineral strength to the enamel.
If you would like more information on sports and energy drinks and their effect on dental health, 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 “Think Before you Drink.”
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
Although a variety of foods provide energy-producing carbohydrates, sugar is among the most popular. It’s believed we universally crave sugar because of the quick energy boost after eating it, or that it also causes a release in our brains of serotonin endorphins, chemicals which relax us and make us feel good.
But there is a downside to refined sugars like table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup: too much in our diets contributes to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dental disease. On the latter, sugar is a primary food source for oral bacteria; the more sugar available in the mouth the higher the levels of bacteria that lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
Moderating your intake of refined sugars and other carbohydrates can be hard to do, given that many processed foods contain various forms of refined sugar. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables helps control sugar intake as well as contribute to overall health. Many people also turn to a variety of sugar substitutes: one study found roughly 85% of Americans use some form of it in place of sugar. They’re also being added to many processed foods: unless you’re checking ingredients labels, you may be consuming them unknowingly.
Sugar substitutes are generally either artificial, manufactured products like saccharin or aspartame or extractions from natural substances like stevia or sorbitol. The good news concerning your teeth and gums is that all the major sugar substitutes don’t encourage bacterial growth. Still, while they’re generally safe for consumption, each has varying properties and may have side-effects for certain people. For example, people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic condition, can’t process aspartame properly and should avoid it.
One alcohol-based sweetener in particular is of interest in oral care. A number of studies indicate xylitol may actually inhibit bacterial growth and thus reduce the risk of tooth decay. You can find xylitol in a variety of gum and mint products.
When considering what sugar substitutes to use, be sure you’re up to date on their potential health effects for certain individuals, as well as check the ingredients labels of processed foods for added sweeteners. As your dentist, we’ll also be glad to advise you on strategies to reduce sugar in your diet and promote better dental health.
If you would like more information on your best options for sweeteners, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
We’ve all heard about potentially negative health effects from the sugar that’s added to many of our favorite foods. So these days, lots of us are trying to cut down on our consumption of sugar — not only to lose weight, but also to help prevent maladies like diabetes and heart disease. We can’t help noticing those pastel-colored packets — pink, yellow and blue — on the rack of our favorite coffee shop. But now we’re wondering: Are those sugar substitutes a good alternative to natural sugar? And which one should we choose?
Artificial sweeteners have been around for decades. Six different types (including the ones in the colorful packets) are currently approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration; a couple of older ones (notably cyclamates) have been banned for many years. In addition to those zero-calorie sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners called sugar alcohols (for example, mannitol and xylitol) are often used as food ingredients. So what’s the difference between them — and which one is best?
That’s not so easy to answer. If you have a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria, you should avoid aspartame (the blue packet), because your body can’t process the substance. Otherwise, the choice may come down to a matter of taste. Even though they are FDA-approved, some controversy (both fact-based and far-fetched) remains about the long-term safety of sugar substitutes, and their usefulness in preventing obesity and other diseases.
Yet it’s clear that for some people, the consequences of consuming too much sugar could be much worse. So if you’re at risk for diabetes or certain other diseases, sugar substitutes can be an important tool in maintaining a healthier diet. They also have another health benefit: sugar substitutes don’t cause cavities. Further, some sugar alcohols (xylitol in particular) have the property of stimulating saliva flow, and have been shown to actually impede the formation of cavities. Oral health is an important (if sometimes overlooked) component of your general well-being, and several studies have pointed to a link between oral and systemic diseases — for example, diabetes and heart disease.
As with so many aspects of our health, there seems to be no “magic bullet” to cure all our diet-related problems. But used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be a valuable part of the effort to improve our overall health and well-being. For more information on this topic, see the Dear Doctor article “Artificial Sweeteners.”