In the early Eighties, dentists began noticing symptoms among a few patients that indicated something far more serious. They were, in fact, among the first healthcare providers to recognize what we now know as HIV-AIDS.
Today, about 1.2 million Americans have contracted the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It’s a retrovirus, somewhat different than other viruses: it can invade immune system cells and hijack their replication mechanism to reproduce itself. Untreated it eventually destroys these cells to give rise to the more serious, life-threatening disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Thanks to antiretroviral drugs, most HIV positive patients live somewhat normal lives and avoid the more serious Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). But while antiretroviral therapy effectively inhibits the action of the virus, it isn’t a cure — the virus is a permanent resident of the body and can still affect health, especially in the mouth.
In this regard, one of the more common conditions associated with HIV is Candidiasis, a fungal infection also known as thrush, which causes cracking of the mouth corners and lesions or white patches on the surface of the tongue or roof of the mouth. HIV patients may also experience limited saliva flow that causes dry mouth (xerostomia) with effects that range from bad breath to a higher risk of tooth decay.
The most serious effect, though, of HIV on oral health is the body’s lower resistance to fight periodontal (gum) disease. HIV patients are especially susceptible to a severe form known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP), a sign as well of immune system deterioration and the beginning of AIDS. This painful condition causes gum ulcerations, extensive bleeding, and the rapid deterioration of gum attachment to teeth.
If you or a family member is HIV positive, you’ll need to pay close attention to oral health. Besides diligent brushing and flossing, you or they should also regularly visit the dentist. These visits not only provide diagnosis and treatment of dental problems, they’re also an important monitoring point for gauging the extent of the HIV infection.
Taking care of dental problems will also ease some of the discomfort associated with HIV. Thanks to proper oral care, you or someone you love can experience a higher quality of life.
Your teeth face a hostile environment populated by disease-causing bacteria. But your teeth also have some “armor” against these microscopic foes: enamel. This hard outer tooth layer forms a barrier between harmful bacteria and the tooth’s more vulnerable layers of dentin and the inner pulp.
But although it’s tough stuff, enamel can erode when it comes into contact with high concentrations of mouth acid. Losing substantial amounts of enamel could leave your teeth exposed to disease.
So, here are 3 things you can do to help protect your enamel so it can keep on protecting you.
Careful on the brushing. Brushing removes dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. But be careful not to brush too often, too hard and too quickly after eating. Brushing more than twice a day can cause gum recession and enamel wear; likewise, brushing too aggressively. You should also wait at least 30 minutes after eating to brush to give your saliva sufficient time to neutralize any acid. You could lose tiny bits of softened enamel brushing too soon.
Cut back on acidic foods and beverages. Spicy foods, sodas and, yes, sports and energy drinks all contain high amounts of acid that can increase your mouth’s acidity. It’s a good idea, then, to reduce acidic foods and beverages in your diet. Instead, eat less spicy foods and drink primarily water or milk. Also, look for foods and beverages with calcium, which helps increase your enamel’s ability to remineralize after acid contact.
Don’t eat right before bedtime. There are a lot of reasons not to eat just before you hit the hay—and one of them is for protecting your tooth enamel. Saliva normally neutralizes acid within a half hour to an hour after eating. While you’re sleeping, though, saliva production decreases significantly. This in turn slows its neutralizing effect, giving acid more contact time with enamel. So, end your eating a few hours before you turn in to avoid too much acid remaining on your teeth.
As with most Western countries, we in the U.S. love our carbs. While fats and proteins make an appearance in our diets, many of us go full-tilt on sugars, starches and fibers.
Regardless of what some diet gurus say, we do need these organic compounds to generate energy for our cells. But carbs can also fuel inflammation: This is a mechanism in the body that isolates and protects healthy tissues from damaged tissues or toxins. Chronic inflammation, though, contributes to systemic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and, yes, gum disease.
And it's not just a matter of too many carbs in your diet. Not all carbs are equal: Some can actually stimulate inflammation, making conditions like gum disease worse. Others, though, might actually help decrease inflammation.
So, in terms of your gum health in particular, how do you know which carbs are better for you and which are worse?
It depends on their ranking on the glycemic index, a measure of how fast the body digests a particular carbohydrate to form glucose, the blood sugar that fuels our cells. The faster the digestion (higher on the glycemic index), the more likely they'll overload the bloodstream with glucose, requiring the release of the hormone insulin to bring the levels back to normal. Continuous insulin increases ultimately lead to higher inflammation.
High glycemic foods include those with added sugar, bakery items made with white flour, white rice or mashed potatoes. But there are also carb foods low on the glycemic scale—most vegetables, greens, beans, nuts and whole grains—whose slower digestive rates avoid the big blood sugar spikes and excessive insulin—and actually hinder inflammation.
So, if you want to control inflammation, reduce your consumption of high glycemic foods like chips, French fries, cookies and similar items. Instead, eat low glycemic foods like apples, bulgur wheat products, oatmeal, and other fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
In short: steer clear of processed foods with added sugar, and indulge yourself in fresh “real” food. These also have the added bonuses of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that keep your body functioning normally. And that can also make a big difference toward keeping your gums healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on diet and 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
It's a “change” moment when your child leaves home to attend college for the first time. For many, it's the first time to truly be on their own. While that new autonomy can be exhilarating, it does require self-responsibility to avoid some nasty pitfalls that might snare them.
So, before you bid them adieu at the dorm, be sure to give them some good, old-fashioned parental advice. And that includes teeth and gum care: While it may not seem as urgent as other potential issues, failing to maintain oral health could eventually affect the rest of their health.
The most important thing they can do mouth-wise is to brush and floss every day—and see a dentist at least twice a year. Daily oral hygiene keeps plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease, from accumulating.
There are other habits that foster good oral health—like eating a well-balanced diet. Encourage them to eat “real” food: less on processed items and more on fresh fruits and vegetables. That includes keeping added sugar to a minimum—not only for good overall health, but to also deprive disease-causing oral bacteria of a favorite food source. And tell them to go easy on the sodas, sports and energy drinks loaded with acid that can damage enamel.
Don't forget to mention lifestyle practices that are best avoided. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption can make the mouth more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. And even if oral piercings are all the rage on campus, any hardware worn in the mouth could cause chipped teeth and contribute to gum recession.
And if you've already had the “talk” with them, you should still review the facts of life one more time. There just happens to be a connection with this particular subject and their mouth—unsafe sexual practices could leave them vulnerable to the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that could increase their oral cancer risk.
College is both an exciting and challenging time. If your new student follows these timely oral care tips, they can avoid teeth and gum problems that could linger for years to come.
If you would like more information helping your college-bound student maintain good oral 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
You can't separate your oral health from your overall health. What's beneficial for your body in general is usually beneficial for your teeth and gums.
Take the foods you eat: good nutrition is essential to general health and well-being. But the same foods that keep the rest of your body healthy often do the same for your mouth—and those that are not so good for the rest of you are usually not good for your teeth and gums either.
Here are 4 different types of foods that positively impact both mouth and body.
Cheese and dairy. Dairy products are rich in calcium, essential for strengthening both your bones and your teeth. Cheese helps stimulate saliva and protects against calcium loss. Cow's milk contains minerals and proteins both your body and mouth needs. It also contains lactose, a less acidic sugar that doesn't contribute to tooth decay.
Plant foods. Vegetables and fruit are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that keep the body functioning normally. They also contain fiber: Not only is this good for your digestive system, it requires chewing to break it down in the mouth, which stimulates saliva. A good flow of saliva helps prevent your mouth from becoming too acidic and thus more prone to dental disease.
Black and green teas. A nice cup of hot tea isn't just soothing—it's rich in antioxidants that help fight disease in the body (and the mouth). Black tea also contains fluoride, which has been proven to strengthen enamel against acid attack.
Chocolate. There's both good and bad news about this perennial favorite. The good news is the polyphenolic compounds (a kind of antioxidant) in unrefined cocoa can protect against disease including tooth decay. The bad news is most processed chocolate is loaded with added sugar—not the healthiest substance for your body, and definitely not for your teeth. Try then to incorporate small amounts of chocolate in your diet, the lower the sugar content the better.
Eating nutritiously helps your body stay healthy and disease-free. And coupled with daily hygiene and regular dental visits, it's one of the best things you can do for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition and 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 “Nutrition and Oral Health: How Diet Impacts Dental and General Health.”