While it is commonly known that we should be brushing our teeth twice a day, flossing daily and seeing our dental professionals every six months, it’s probably not as widely known how certain foods or drinks, oral habits or general health problems can have a negative effect the health of our mouth.
It’s generally understood that the bacteria that causes dental decay, or cavities, love sweets. The bacteria survive on sugars in our diet, and when they eat the sugar, acid is created by them and released against the tooth it contacts. Because the bacteria create acid, they thrive and become more active in an acidic environment, and there are many drinks and foods that create an acidic environment in our mouths. The most common are beverages such as soda, energy drinks, coffee and juices.
Our saliva has the ability to naturally protect our teeth by reducing the acidic environment in our mouths, but it needs time. Acidic beverages and foods, some medications and damaged salivary glands can all reduce the effectiveness of our saliva. Our saliva can reduce the amount of acid in our mouths back to safer levels in between meals, but it needs time. That is the reason why dental professionals don’t recommend snacking between meals or drinking sodas constantly throughout the day.
Habits such as smoking, chewing tobacco, biting/chewing on hard objects, thumb/finger sucking, tongue thrusting, excessing mouth breathing and swishing or pooling acidic beverages can all have undesired oral health consequences.
While most people know that smoking and chewing tobacco can cause cancer, there are other concerns with tobacco use. Chemicals in cigarettes or chew cause constriction of blood vessels in the mouth and help prevent bleeding when brushing and flossing. The lack of bleeding masks an unhealthy mouth and prevents people from seeking dental care. Chewing on hard objects can fracture teeth or result in slow, progressive wear that isn’t easily noticed because it happens slowly over time until it’s too late. At that point, addressing it is costly and/or
results in tooth loss. Other oral habits such as thumb/finger sucking, tongue thrusting, and excessive mouth breathing all can result in changes to our bite by changing the shape of the jaw bones or alignment of the teeth. Swishing or pooling of acidic beverages are habits that increase the exposure of teeth to acid by moving the drink repeatedly or holding it around the teeth for extended periods of time.
There are also many health issues that can have a negative effect on our oral health. Some of them include untreated diabetes, compromised immune systems, acid reflux/GERD, bulimia and loss of eyesight or manual dexterity. Untreated diabetes and compromised immune systems can result in delayed/poor healing and/or opportunistic bacterial, viral, or fungal infections and can be more difficult to treat. Stomach acid, just like acidic beverages and foods, can cause wear to teeth and promote an environment that cavity-causing bacteria thrive in. Lastly, physical limitations of some people can affect their ability to keep their mouth clean. When there are physical limitations, I always recommend using an electric toothbrush and other aids to assist in maintaining good oral health.
A thorough health history review and dental examination by your dentist should be done to help alleviate or prevent the problems that I’ve covered in this blog. If you are ever concerned about your oral health, you should always feel comfortable asking your dental professional (dentist and/or hygienist) for advice on achieving or maintaining good oral health