Icky Mouth Mysteries Solved

1 / 10   Unhealthy Gums and Your Health

Do you suffer with red gums, or is the roof of your mouth swollen? Without fail, you follow your dentist’s orders to keep your teeth and gums healthy — but did you know that the condition of your mouth can also shine light on other health problems? Some dental conditions, such as bad breath, pale gums and red gums, can be signs of gum disease. But other oral symptoms may point to seemingly unrelated health problems. (Hint: Eroded teeth could be a sign of an eating disorder or chronic heartburn.)

If you have gum disease, you’re not alone. More than 1 out of 2, or 64.7 million Americans, have mild, moderate, or severe gum disease, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gum disease ranges from unhealthy gum swelling, called gingivitis, to serious tissue and bone destruction. In the worst cases of gum disease, you will lose teeth.

Healthy mouths are full of bacteria, mucus, and other food particles that form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on the teeth. Normally, you get rid of plaque by brushing and flossing regularly. But when plaque builds up because of poor oral hygiene, it causes inflamed, bleeding gums or gingivitis.

Gingivitis is the mild form of gum disease. Good oral health habits — brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, getting regular dental checkups, and not smoking — can help prevent and reverse gingivitis.

Plaque that is not removed hardens into tartar. This will lead to increased bleeding and a more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis. With this advanced gum disease, the unhealthy gums pull away from the teeth and form small pockets that can become infected. If periodontal disease goes untreated, the bones, gums and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, certain people have a higher risk of gum disease than others. Risk factors for gum disease include:

  • Aging
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Hormonal changes in girls and women
  • Medication
  • Other illnesses, such as AIDS and cancer treatments
  • Smoking

Taking care of unhealthy gums or gum disease can save your teeth. Here are some lifestyle and home remedies to consider:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day
  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Replace your toothbrush every three months
  • Floss daily
  • Use an over-the-counter mouth rinse after brushing to reduce plaque
  • See your dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and mouth checks
  • Don’t smoke

Take a look at these oral symptoms to find out what they could be telling you about your health.

Drinking Alcohol Increases Disease-Causing Mouth Bacteria

Drinking alcohol can throw off the balance of good and bacteria in the mouth and raise your risk for a variety of diseases, according to new research.

In a study published April 23, 2018, in the journal Microbiome, scientists at NYU School of Medicine found that people who consume one or more alcoholic beverages daily disrupt a healthy combination of oral microbes, which can lead to gum infection, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.

“Our study shows that heavy alcohol drinkers shift the overall composition of their oral microbiome [the community of microorganisms in the mouth] compared with nondrinkers,” says research senior investigator Jiyoung Ahn, PhD, associate director of population science at the NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City. “Particularly, we found that beneficial bacteria disappeared, and several inflammatory bacteria contents increased in heavy alcohol drinkers.”

The study defined heavy drinkers as women and men who had more than one or two drinks per day, respectively.

“Heavy alcohol drinking is a well-established risk factor for multiple diseases, including cancers,” says Dr. Ahn. “Our study provides another scientific reason to avoid heavy alcohol drinking for maintaining a healthy oral microbiome, which is important to our health.”

Good Versus Bad Bacteria

More than 700 different species of bacteria and some species of fungi live in the mouth. Many of these microorganisms can play an important role in factors that help maintain wellnessincluding immune response, nutrient digestion, and possible cancer prevention.

The heavy drinkers in the study had higher levels of harmful BacteroidalesActinomyces, and Neisseria bacteria; and they had lower levels of Lactobacillales, commonly found in probiotic food supplements and thought to prevent sickness.

Ahn noted that, in prior research, she and her colleagues demonstrated that oral bacteria composition can influence the development of oral and upper digestive track cancers, including cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, and pancreas. Changes to bacterial composition from heavy drinking potentially contribute to periodontal disease, heart disease, and head and neck cancer as well, according to the authors.

Ahn and her colleagues reviewed mouthwash samples and alcohol consumption data from 1,044 adults, ages 55 to 87, who were participating in two ongoing cancer studies. Researchers analyzed oral bacteria and compared the microbe composition among 270 nondrinkers, 614 moderate drinkers, and 160 heavy drinkers.

The study authors indicated that the current research was not extensive enough to distinguish differences in oral health among wine, beer, or liquor drinkers.

6 Best Teeth Whitening Products

All products and services featured here are chosen for their potential to inspire and enable your wellness. Everyday Health may earn an affiliate commission on items you purchase.

Having a whiter smile can boost confidence as you go about your daily life, and it is a signal to the rest of the world of one’s health and vitality. It’s no wonder that Americans spend $1.4 billion each year on teeth whitening products.

With the number of at-home products available on the market today, people can achieve noticeable results quickly and affordably from the comfort of their own home, but the number of choices can be dizzying. Teeth whitening products typically cost anywhere from $5 to $10, with more intricate products having price points of $200 or more. In other words, there is a choice for every budget.

Some Features to Look for in Teeth Whitening Products

Consult with your dentist prior to using a teeth whitening product — especially if you have crowns, fillings, or very dark stains. A licensed dentist can help you select the best product for your personal situation, while helping ensure good overall oral health.

With the above information in mind, here are our picks for the six best teeth whitening products.

Best Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

Crest 3D White Toothpaste

Offering one of the best bangs for your buck, Crest 3D White toothpaste helps remove up to 95 percent of surface stains with regular use, making it a popular choice among consumers looking to shine up those pearly whites. It’s available at most major retailers including CVS, Target, and Costco.

Available from Amazon starting at $12

Best Teeth Whitening Device

GLO Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device

This at-home device helps get teeth up to five shades whiter without the hassle of a visit to the dentist — you can even do a treatment while getting ready in the morning. The innovative gel formula doesn’t stick to gums or other soft tissue, and is gentle enough for use on sensitive teeth. The GLO Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device uses both heat and light to help speed up the whitening process, while providing longer-lasting results. It comes with a whitening mouthpiece and case, 10 whitening gel refills, a charging dock and power adapter with USB cable, lip care product, a travel bag, and a detailed user manual.

Available from Amazon starting at $220

Best Teeth Whitening Pen

AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Pen

The compact AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Pen easily fits into any purse or pocket for convenient whitening touch ups while out and about. The whitening gel twists out of the top for easy application, and visibly whitens teeth in less than a minute. The flexible tip brush helps to ensure the product is applied thoroughly to all visible surfaces of your teeth.

Available from Amazon starting at $20

Best Teeth Whitening Strips

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Professional Effects Treatments

6 Best Electric Toothbrushes for Healthier Teeth

With high-tech and convenience features, electric toothbrushes make it easier to get a more thorough clean. Find out which model is for you.

All products and services featured here are chosen for their potential to inspire and enable your wellness. Everyday Health may earn an affiliate commission on items you purchase.

Regular teeth brushing is a crucial part of good oral health, as well as your appearance. But is an electric toothbrush really superior to a manual toothbrush when it comes to cleaning those pearly whites?

According to an analysis of 56 studies completed in 2014, international research organization Cochrane found that electric models may be slightly better than their manual counterparts at removing plaque and improving gum health. The analysis found that electric toothbrushes removed 21 percent more dental plaque and reduced gingivitis by 11 percent after three months of use, compared to manual toothbrushes.

While the American Dental Association (ADA) notes that both manual and electric toothbrushes are equally effective at cleaning teeth, it really comes down to technique. They recommend brushing twice daily for two minutes with a toothpaste containing fluoride. If you go with an electric toothbrush, however, it will do most of the work for you, with some models even timing the session.

Electric toothbrushes cost as little as $5 for battery-operated units and up to $200 or more for feature-rich models, so there is a choice for every budget.

With so many options available on the market, how do you know which electric toothbrush is best for your dental needs?

Electric Toothbrush Features and Options

  • When shopping for an electric toothbrush, you’ll want a model that is gentle on gums, without sacrificing cleaning power.
  • Look for a handle with a soft-touch grip, which will make the toothbrush easier to maneuver when cleaning all those hard-to-reach places where plaque can build up.
  • Consider the replacement brush head options (and their cost) when selecting an electric toothbrush. The ADA recommends replacing the brush head at least every three months.
  • A splurge-worthy benefit worth considering is a built-in, two-minute timer, which helps ensure that users brush long enough.
  • Additional features such as pressure-sensing technology and adjustable program settings can help improve brushing technique, but aren’t really necessary.

Here are our top six picks for the best electric toothbrushes.

Nutrition Its Role in General & Oral Health

Our previous article on nutrition (“Nutrition & Oral Health”) discussed how dietary factors affect dental and oral health.

In this article, we go a step further and look at how the basics of nutrition, coupled with diet and exercise, affect life-long general and oral health.

The Surgeon General of the United States has stated emphatically that “You can’t be healthy without oral health.” And, as our last article explained, you can’t have good oral health without good nutrition.

We’ll expand on the idea that good nutrition is the key to overall health, both general and oral. In other words, what’s good for the whole body is good for your teeth, gums and other oral tissues. We need good nutrition and dietary practices throughout life, for the formation, development and continued health of our oral tissues and structures, as well as those in the rest of the body.

Clarifying the Terms of Nutrition

Food is not only our primary source of nourishment — it’s also a profound part of our society, culture and community. What we eat critically impacts not only overall health, but also our risks for several of the leading causes of death like coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.

First, a little clarification: even though the terms “nutrition” and “diet” are often used interchangeably, they aren’t synonymous. Nutrition is the end effect of food in the body; diet is an individual’s eating habits or food choices. Both play important roles in health.

Foods are the substances we eat that provide the essential components of life — the nutrients.

Nutrients can be classified into six major categories:

  • Carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fibers)
  • Proteins (from animal and vegetable sources)
  • Fats (preferably from vegetable sources in liquid form)
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water

Together, all these types of nutrients perform three basic functions in the body: provide fuel (energy); regulate body processes; and contribute to building body structures.

In fact, very few foods are composed of a single nutrient (refined table sugar, exclusively carbohydrate, is one of those rarities). Most contain a combination of nutrients plus other components. For example, milk contains carbohydrate, protein, fat, water and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Calorie is another term that is often misunderstood. Calories and nutrients are not the same: calories are a measure of the energy available to the body from foods. Only carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide calories. One gram of dietary protein provides four calories, one gram of carbohydrate provides four calories, and one gram of fat provides nine calories to the body. So, gram for gram, fats provide about twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates. Alcohol has seven calories per gram, but is not considered a nutrient!

Nutrients also serve other important functions. For example, proteins provide the building blocks for tissues, while fats provide insulation and cushioning for the body. High fiber carbohydrates provide fiber for intestinal health. Calcium, vitamin D, folic acid and magnesium are needed for maintaining healthy bones.

Some foods are high in nutrients and low in calories, like salad greens. Other foods may be high in calories but low in nutritional value. For example, the only nutrient a soda contains is carbohydrate in the form of sugar. Vitamins and minerals do not provide any calories but they serve other essential functions in the body.

When foods are eaten, the nutrients are absorbed through the small intestine and go through the blood to the liver, and then to the body tissues and structures that need them. Depending upon the nutrient, excesses are either unabsorbed and pass out of the body, or stored in the body. Excess carbohydrates, proteins and fats are ultimately stored as body fats. Excess vitamins A and D are also stored and can be harmful if consumed in greater than recommended amounts. All nutrients are undergoing active metabolism — even “stored” nutrients are constantly being used up and replenished.

Smile for life: tips for a healthy mouth

Oral health is essential for your general wellbeing: not only does a healthy mouth enable good nutrition but it can also indicate if there’s something wrong elsewhere.

At Portman, we will work with you to ensure your oral health routine keeps you smiling for life. Read our expert advice to make sure your oral health is on track.

Ten top tips for a healthy mouth

  1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time, using a fluoride toothpaste. Use a high quality toothbrush – an electric one is preferable.
  2. Change your toothbrush regularly. Invest in a new manual toothbrush or new electric brush head every two to three months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed and worn.
  3. Floss and rinse. Using dental floss or interdental brushes to clean between your teeth every time you brush is essential for gum health. Using a fluoride mouthwash with help to provide extra protection, fights bacteria and freshens your breath.
  4. Clean your teeth before breakfast. Consuming foods and drinks with high acidic levels will soften the enamel on your teeth. Brushing straight after eating, when the enamel is at its softest, can damage it. Over time, weakened enamel can cause sensitivity, staining and cavities. It is recommended to wait 30 minutes after eating before cleaning teeth, to allow the enamel to harden again.
  5. Cut down on sugar. Reduce the amount and the frequency of sugary foods and drinks in your diet. We all know we should curb the amount of sugary foods we consume, but we also need to limit the frequency of consumption.
    After eating these foods, the enamel softens, and is more susceptible to damage. The mouth’s natural defense, saliva, will help to harden the enamel again, but needs time to build up after eating. Regular snacking on sugary foods or drinking drinks high in sugar may limit this defense, leaving the enamel softened and teeth at risk of acid erosion.
  6. Visit your dentist regularly. Book an appointment for a checkup every six to 12 months to catch any issues early and keep on top of your dental health.
    Did you know your dentist also checks your soft tissue (tongue, cheeks and lips) at every visit for signs of oral cancer. Cases of oral cancer continue to rise, but catching any concerns early significantly increases your chance to cure it.
  7. Visit your hygienist. Regular trips to the hygienist will remove plaque and stains, brighten your smile, treat gum disease and prevent bad breath.
  8. Clean your tongue. Use a soft toothbrush or a special tongue-cleaning tool to regularly clean the surface of your tongue and remove bacteria that can cause bad breath.
  9. Replace missing teeth. Replacing any missing teeth will prevent decay and movement in the surrounding teeth, and bone loss elsewhere in your jaw. Implants and bridges can restore function and look very natural. Ask how we can help at your local Portman practice.
  10. Restore existing teeth. At Portman we have many treatments that can help restore the appearance of your mouth, from crowns to bonding. Just ask your Portman dentist for more information.

Great Expectations — Perceptions in Smile Design

The Patient’s Perspective

an analysis by Dear Doctor magazine

Does your dentist see what you see — and vice versa? Can you really communicate how you want to change your smile?

Perceptions in smile design.

While beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, a person’s own perception of what looks good is an important factor in achieving a satisfying result when enhancing someone’s smile. Most of us understand that we want our teeth to look wonderfully bright and natural, but not like ultra-white “Chiclets” all in a row.

While there are several ways modern dentistry can alter the appearance of a smile by changing teeth, ranging from composite resins to porcelain veneers and crowns, this article discusses how you as an individual perceive what looks natural and what doesn’t — and how to go about communicating with your dentist what you want to change in your teeth and smile.

Perceptions and the Art of Dentistry

Does your dentist see what you see — and vice versa? Can you really communicate how you want to change your smile? These are important questions — so let’s start by examining what information is available to us from research on this important issue. Recent studies address this critical subject regarding communication between the public at large as a non-professional group and dental professionals, who may or may not “get” what you are trying to say about what you see and want to change in your smile.

One study set out to determine the differences in perceptions of lay persons and dental professionals. The study looked at variations in tooth size and alignment and their relation to surrounding gums and other facial features that make up a smile. The results are very enlightening because they show that there are varying levels of differences, which can actually aid the dentist artistically when making specific treatment recommendations.

There is no doubt that dentists look at smiles differently than non-professionals — which actually makes perfect sense. Dentists as a group are (and should be) more discerning of issues such as crown (tooth) length, midlines (how the teeth line up with other facial features) and gum-to-lip distance, to name a few.

According to the same study, lay persons place more importance on other features of facial aesthetics. For example, individuals rated mouth expression and lip shape as more noticeable than other “strictly dental” characteristics.

Vive La Difference

The art of “making smiles” lies in the dentist’s ability to integrate the individual’s personal perceptions of what is important and what he or she considers necessary to be aesthetically pleasing. It is the dentist as artist who must incorporate natural elements of dental anatomy and scientific knowledge into smile design. You must have confidence and trust that your dentist hears what you’re saying and that you are able to communicate what you want to look like. Indeed, trust is critical in this relationship with something as important as your smile, which is now in the hands of a dental professional.

Part of building the necessary trust is to accept that there will always be differing levels of perception between patient and dentist; minor variations in areas of smile analysis and design need not be an important concern to you. What is important, though, is for you and your dentist to understand what gets communicated in this encounter.

With a professionally trained and experienced eye, your dentist will actually see more dental possibilities than you do. It is therefore the responsibility of the dentist to inform and educate you so that you’re better able to make your own personal choices.

On the other hand, the old axiom “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is also a good principle to follow, at least aesthetically speaking. In other words, if you’re happy with certain characteristics of your smile, leave well enough alone.

Dental health tips for teens

dental decay common in teens

Dental decay is the most common chronic disease in young people between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Follow these tips to stop cavities before they start.

  • Play it safe. Contact sports can cause oral injuries, but teens can prevent injuries by wearing a mouthguard while playing sports. More than 200,000 injuries to the mouth and jaw occur each year, and dentists regularly recommend the use of mouthguards in a variety of sports activities. Whether a mouthguard is custom-fitted by a dentist or bought at a store, teens should keep it clean by rinsing it often and storing it in a ventilated container.
  • Avoid oral piercings. People with tongue or other mouth piercings can easily chip their teeth while eating, sleeping, talking and chewing. The fracture can be confined to tooth enamel and require a filling, or it may go deeper, which can lead to a root canal or tooth extraction.

    Infections are also common with oral piercings. The tongue can swell after being punctured, and in some cases can become infected and swell to such a degree that it interferes with breathing. Unclean piercing equipment can cause other infections, such as blood-borne hepatitis.

  • Make time for healthy habits. Teens eat quick meals in the form of “nutrition” bars and fast food to stay alert and on schedule between school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. However, these habits can permanently damage oral and overall health. Teens should have access to healthy snacks such as apples, carrot sticks and cheese and should seek low or no-sugar drinks like organic tea and coconut water. Keeping a travel-size toothbrush in a locker or backpack can help teens keep up good teeth-cleaning habits by brushing after meals and snacks.

Just like adults, teens should visit their dentist at least twice a year. Regular dental visits and cleanings not only help keep teeth bright and shiny (a boost to any teens self-esteem), they can also help catch minor problems before they become worse.

Cough syrup and cavities

Coughs, colds and flu can make your life miserable. And like most people, you’ll probably reach for an over-the-counter medication to ease your symptoms. But did you know that spoonful of medicine could add tooth decay to your list of side effects?

Many cough drops and liquid medications contain a variety of ingredients that make your teeth more susceptible to decay:

  • Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and sucrose contribute to decay when the bacteria in your mouth feed on the sugars, breaking them down and forming acids that attack the enamel of your teeth.
  • Ingredients such as citric acid can wear down the enamel of your teeth. In addition, some antihistamine syrups contain low pH levels and high acidity, which can be a dangerous combination for your teeth.
  • The addition of alcohol in some popular cold and cough syrups also has a drying effect on the mouth. Saliva helps to naturally rinse the sugars and acids away from your teeth – so with less saliva present, the sugars and acids remain in the mouth even longer, leading to greater risk for decay.

These risks can be magnified if medication is taken before bedtime. Because you produce less saliva while you sleep, sugar and acids remain in contact with the teeth longer, increasing your risk for decay.

What’s the remedy?

There are things you can do to lessen the effects of the sugars and acids in liquid medication.

  • Take liquid medication at meal times instead of bedtime so that more saliva is produced to rinse away the sugars and acids.
  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after taking medication.
  • If you can’t brush, rinse your mouth well with water or chew sugar-free gum after taking liquid medication.
  • Take calcium supplements or use topical fluoride after using liquid medication.
  • If it’s available, choose a pill form of the medication instead of syrup.

Chewing tobacco, boys and baseball

Likely users of chewing tobacco are teenage boys who play baseball. But no matter who is using it, chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can harm oral health.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), children, especially boys, may begin using chewing tobacco as early as grammar school. Approximately four percent of boys in grammar school use chewing tobacco. This percentage leaps to 20 percent for high school boys, half of whom develop pre-cancerous white patches in their mouths.

Many boys begin to use chewing tobacco when they become involved in sports, particularly baseball. Researchers believe that young people are influenced by seeing professional baseball players using chewing tobacco at the ballpark or during televised games.

It may be smokeless, but it’s still tobacco

One of the newest forms of smokeless tobacco that is gaining popularity in America is called snus (rhymes with “goose”). It’s a Swedish type of smokeless tobacco that comes in teabag-like pouches that a user sticks between the upper lip and gum, leaves there for up to 30 minutes and discards without spitting.

This form of smokeless tobacco has become more popular because it’s not as messy as chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco and moist snuff, which often cause excess saliva during use. It does, however, still contain the active ingredients of chewing tobacco. Snus products are required to carry one of three warning labels that say the product is either “not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” “may cause mouth cancer” or “may cause gum disease and tooth loss.”

Smokeless tobacco and oral health

Just because chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco aren’t smoked as cigarettes does not mean they are harmless, especially when it comes to oral health. In fact, the American Cancer Society, in a study of 116,000 men, found that male smokers who gave up cigarettes for smokeless tobacco still had higher death rates from lung cancer, heart disease and strokes than men who quit all tobacco or never smoked.

Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco can lead to higher incidences of cavities and oral cancer. A few of the known health dangers of smokeless tobacco include the following:

  • Smokeless tobacco products, just like cigarettes, contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas.
  • Users also may be at risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder, because they swallow some of the toxins in the juice created by using smokeless tobacco.
  • Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gums, causing gum (periodontal) disease.
  • Sugar is often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, increasing the risk for tooth decay.
  • Smokeless tobacco typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down teeth.

What you can do

If you are a smoker, a user of smokeless tobacco or a parent with a child or teen whom you suspect may be using tobacco, you can start by understanding that tobacco dependence is a nicotine addiction disorder.

There are four aspects to nicotine addiction: physical, sensory, psychological and behavioral. All aspects of nicotine addiction need to be addressed in order to break the habit. This can mean that tobacco users may need to try several times before they are able to successfully kick the habit.

Speak to your child directly about the risks associated with all tobacco products, including smokeless ones. If you have friends or relatives who have died of a tobacco-related illness, share the truth about it with your child, and discuss ways your child can say no to tobacco.