Healthy Teeth Can Last a Lifetime!
by Kris R. Potts, RDH, BS
There are several reasons why a person does not keep their teeth their entire life, and most of those reasons for tooth loss are highly preventable. Periodontal disease is the number one reason adults lose teeth. Periodontal disease affects the very foundation of our teeth — the bone and supporting gum tissue. It contributes to bad breath, red, swollen, bleeding gums and can cramp our social life! Dental decay is another factor, especially in children. However, over 92% of adults will have experienced decay at some point in their lifetime. Dental decay is a result of the process of bacteria producing acids that attack the tooth enamel. The bacteria feed on what we eat, then grow and reproduce, resulting in a byproduct of lactic acid that decalcifies the minerals in the enamel. Other factors that can affect keeping teeth for a lifetime are making healthy changes, deciding to make informed choices that are proven to prevent these issues, and following the recommendations of dental professionals. More and more dental professionals are recommending routine xylitol use as an easy, convenient way to prevent decay.
The majority of the infections that cause periodontal disease and decay can be prevented by a simple disruption of the bacterial biofilms that are constantly forming in our mouth. A bacterial biofilm is a community of bacteria that are interdependent on each other, communicating and growing. They develop a slimy over layer that protects them and allows the community to continue to function. Disrupting this biofilm is accomplished by proper tooth brushing for a minimum of two minutes at least twice a day, cleaning the areas in between the teeth that can’t be reached by brushing, seeking regular, preventive, professional care and introducing xylitol into the diet.
Proper Daily Care
Ultrasonic toothbrushes have been proven to disrupt these bacterial biofilms. Alternatives to daily flossing with string are available, such as interdental cleaners and water flossers that have been proven effective in controlling the bacteria in between the teeth. If proper daily care at home is achieved, professional visits do not have to be feared, expensive or painful. A visit to your dental hygienist will decrease the bacterial load in the mouth by a thorough removal of the biofilm (cleaning), and the hygienist can offer instruction on how to better reach certain areas that are being missed and trapping biofilm. There are also fast, simple, and non-invasive bacterial testing options available that can tell the professionals what particular bacteria could be causing the issue, and in recommending better targeted management techniques. A key to managing bacterial load is to begin early, long before the first tooth ever erupts. If we can take measures to avoid the damaging bacteria setting up shop in the mouth before the age of two, the risk for decay is dramatically reduced and there is a much better outcome in preventing decay. However, the risk level can be reduced at any age, resulting in healthier mouths as adults.
One more alternative to prevent decay is to avoid processed sugars in our diet and frequent snacking on high carbohydrate laden foods. Avoiding acidic food and drink such as sports drinks, energy drinks and sodas is crucial as well. Every snack or beverage we consume begins that process of feeding the bacterial which grow and reproduce. Biofilm allows bacteria to thrive. The byproduct of bacteria consuming the sugar is acid. That acid then eats through the protective enamel of our teeth. It is a continuous cycle with the bacteria just waiting for the next dose of sugar.
Another significant component of dental decay is having adequate salivary flow. Saliva is one of the protective factors in our mouth that replaces the minerals in the enamel that are leeched out by the acids. Saliva keeps the pH in the mouth in balance, negating the acids formed. An inadequate amount of saliva can be caused by many medications, systemic conditions such as Sjorgrens, diabetes and oncology treatment. Changes in salivary flow and quality have been observed to occur with age. Having inadequate salivary flow or the feeling of “dry mouth” can affect speaking, swallowing, and eating. As people age, socialization is a very important factor in longevity, as is nutrition. A dental professional can assist you in determining if your salivary flow is adequate, as well as saliva quality, again, by a simple, non-invasive test performed in the office.
Oral health can also be enhanced by incorporating a natural sweetener, such as xylitol, into our daily diet. Xylitol is used by the bacteria for food, but bacteria can’t metabolize xylitol. Xylitol disrupts their biofilm making ability and causes the offending bacteria to die and be flushed out of the system through the digestive tract. Xylitol can be used in baking, on cereal, fruit and in our coffee or tea. It can provide the sweetness that we all crave, with 40% fewer calories, a low glycemic index of seven, no bitter aftertaste, and without feeding those pesky bacteria! Using gums, mints, candies and other oral care products that are 100% xylitol sweetened will assist in raising the pH of the mouth to a neutral level and not allowing the bacterial acids to destroy the enamel. Xylitol will also draw moisture to the mouth, stimulating salivary flow, keeping the tissues moist with protective saliva that protects the teeth from the acid damage. This becomes very important to us as we age. A very common problem with elders is a sudden increase in decay that can be traced back to a decreased salivary flow.
Many things contribute to dental decay and periodontal disease. As people live longer and have access to improved dental treatments in their lifetime, they are keeping their teeth much longer. Making a few changes like using an ultrasonic power toothbrush, cleaning in between our teeth daily, having regular professional visits and introducing xylitol in the daily routine can improve our smiles, nutrition, overall general health and protect teeth, so they can last a lifetime!
Kris Potts, RDH, BS has been a practicing clinical Dental Hygienist for over 32 years. She is employed by Wasatch Sales Force through which she represents the Xlear/Spry Xylitol Product Line. In this position, Kris travels the South Central US encouraging informed choices to improve health by delivering education on xylitol to a cross section of health professionals and consumers. Ms. Potts is an active member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association serving as a Delegate representing Texas hygienists and is currently President of the Texas Dental Hygienists Association. Over the years she has held many other positions in addition to chairing numerous councils and committees on behalf of the organization. Kris is also member of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.