Dry Mouth Isn’t Just Unpleasant…It Can Cause Tooth Decay!

drinking water to combat dry mouth and tooth decayA dry mouth is a uniquely uncomfortable feeling and should not be dismissed as a trivial issue for one very important reason: a dry mouth can make it more likely that you’ll get tooth decay! The presence of saliva in your mouth is an important part of keeping your teeth healthy.

Dry mouth, which is called xerostomia by dental professionals, is sometimes just a temporary feeling caused by regular activities such as strenuous exercise of speaking aloud for a long period of time. However, some people experience chronic dry mouth, which can lead to big problems over time: in other words, tooth decay.

The saliva in your mouth helps wash away cavity-causing bacteria as well as the food debris that such bacteria might feed on. In addition, saliva contains minerals that help strengthen teeth and can ever re-mineralize weak areas that might be at risk for tooth decay. All of these benefits of saliva are what makes its absence in the case of dry mouth so troublesome.

One of the most common causes of dry mouth is medication. Many medications (some say over 400!) can cause dry mouth, such as anti-depressants, diuretics, and antihistamines. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of radiation treatment in cancer patients because it can interfere with the salivary gland’s ability to create saliva.

Whatever the cause of dry mouth, it’s important to start treating it right away to reduce the risk of tooth decay. One easy solution is to sip water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist. You should also talk to the dentist about your symptoms and see if you may need to use a special mouthwash or artificial saliva product.

If your dry mouth could be a side effect of a medication, you can also talk to your primary care doctor about changing the medication to something that might not cause dry mouth. You should also avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol, as these can make dry mouth worse. There are many alcohol-free mouthwashes that are just as tasty and effective.

 

 

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You Can Still Get Cavities on a Paleo Diet!

paleo diet doesn't always prevent tooth decayThe paleo diet is a nutritional lifestyle that only includes the types of foods that paleolithic humans (a.k.a. cavemen) had access to. Among many other health benefits, many people who advocate for the paleo diet also claim that it can prevent tooth decay. But it turns out this might not be true.

The logic behind this theory makes sense. Ancient humans ate mostly meat from wild animals, seeds, nuts, and fruits. For years, the common wisdom among paleontologists and anthropologists was that ancient humans got many fewer cavities than modern humans because their diet was low in tooth decay-causing sugars and carbohydrates. It wasn’t until the advent of agriculture that the teeth ancient human skeletons started showing rates of tooth decay that resemble modern humans. The gist of the evidence seemed to be that once humans started consuming domesticated wheat and dairy from domesticated animals, our teeth started paying the price despite having a more stable source of food.

Paleo dieters logically assume that if they stick to a pre-agrarian diet, they won’t have to visit the dentist to fix dental problems as often. While we highly recommend a diet high in good fats and proteins and low in sugar like the paleo diet, we have to emphasize that it doesn’t make you immune to tooth decay. And it turns out, that was true for ancient humans too.

Recent evidence from an ancient burial site in Morocco has revealed a hunter gatherer population from about 15,000 years ago that had tooth decay just as prevalent as modern humans. The explanation is that unlike some paleo populations, these people had access to high-carbohydrate food in the form of acorns. (Carbohydrates turn into sugar in your mouth, which then feeds the bacteria that produces cavity-causing acids onto your teeth.) It remains true that ancient human populations that didn’t have access to lots of carbs from foods like acorns did not have the same problem with tooth decay. Still, this discovery disproves the idea that prevalent tooth decay first appeared during the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.

The moral of the story is, if you’re going to eat a paleo diet, be careful about how you choose to imitate ancient humans. They weren’t immune to tooth decay because of their all-natural diet. Even our paleo patients should come to the dentist regularly for checkups!

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Toothbrushes Used to Be Made From Plants & Animals

a history of the toothbrushThe modern toothbrush has only been around for about 90 years, but it is the latest in a long evolution of tools to fight tooth decay, stretching back thousands of years and involving a whole range of flora and fauna!

Pre-History – Chewing on Sticks

Long before our ancestors used toothbrushes to ward off tooth decay, people chewed on sticks or twigs to clean their teeth. The earliest chew sticks found date back to 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia and a tomb from 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Archeological finds also indicate that people used bird feather quills and porcupine spines to pick and clean their teeth.

Chew sticks are still around in the Middle East and northern Africa in the form of miswaks (also called siwaak or sewak). A miswak is made from twigs from the Salvadora persica tree (or arak in Arabic), which is easily frayed to form a brush-like tip at one end. In addition to being an alternative to the toothbrush for cleaning teeth, these sticks are part of pious ritual for many Muslims.

Bone & Bristle Toothbrushes

The next evolution in anti-tooth decay tools came from China, where the first actual toothbrushes were invented. During the Tong Dynasty around the years 600-900, the first bristled toothbrushes appeared. They typically had handles made from bone or bamboo and had bristles made from the stiff hair of northern hogs.

This Chinese invention of bristled toothbrushes eventually made it to Europe in the 1600s. Europeans changed the design by replacing hog hairs with horse hair, which were softer and therefore preferable.

The first mass produced toothbrush was designed by William Addis of England in 1780. (It was around this same time that being a dentist became a formally recognized medical profession, which some scholars correlate with the rise in sugar in European diets due to colonial trade.) Addis actually created the first prototype from a piece of bone when he was briefly in prison! After gaining his freedom, he started mass producing the toothbrush, eventually passing the business on to his son. Their Wisdom Toothbrush company was family owned until the 1990s and still produces modern toothbrushes in Europe.

20th Century Innovation

The next big innovation in toothbrushes came with the invention of nylon by the Du Pont chemical company in the 1930s. From then on, most toothbrushes were made with softer nylon bristles. Not only were they more pleasant to use and easier on the teeth, they were less likely to harbor bacteria like old-fashioned bristles made from animal hair.

The next big invention in toothbrush technology came with addition of electricity. The first electric toothbrush was invented in 1954 and became available in the United States in 1960. Like modern electric toothbrushes, the earliest ones involved a motor that vibrated the brush, supposedly enhancing the action of the bristles.

The Future

Who knows what the future of toothbrushing holds (maybe toothbrushing robots!). What every dentist (and patient) knows is that if you stick to using a soft bristled toothbrush (replaced every 3 months) to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, there are healthier smiles in your future!

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