Proponents of legalized marijuana have won phenomenal gains over the last decade. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of the drug, several states including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have voted to legalize its recreational use.
Most people are aware of the social and political controversies the marijuana legalization movement stirs. But there's another side to this roiling issue: the health effects of marijuana, particularly for your teeth and gums. What may be lost beneath the more exciting headlines about ballot initiatives is the growing evidence that habitual marijuana use may increase the risk and severity of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. The spreading infection triggers inflammation, a normal bodily response to disease that's ordinarily beneficial. But if the inflammation becomes chronic it weakens the gums' attachment to the teeth. This can create voids or periodontal pockets of infection around the teeth. The disease can eventually damage the underlying bone, which could accelerate tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene is the biggest factor for an increased risk of gum disease; thinner gum tissue (an inherited condition or related to poor tooth position) is another factor, as well as lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Add marijuana to the list: there's now some evidence that its use increases the risk for more severe periodontal pockets if the disease occurs.
In a recent study, researchers with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reviewed statistics on the care for nearly 2,000 adult patients; a quarter of those in the study were frequent marijuana users. The marijuana users proportionately had deeper periodontal pocket occurrences than the rest of the patients in the study that didn't use the drug.
The study doesn't say that marijuana causes periodontal (gum) disease. But it does suggest that marijuana use might increase its severity. As with other substances and practices in our society, marijuana use comes with a caveat: it may be legal where you live, but it may not necessarily be good for your health.
If you would like more information on the effects of marijuana use on your 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 “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Link to Gum Disease is a Concern.”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Your child's oral development generates considerable changes during their "growing up" years. There are a number of things you can do to help support their development—but also things you shouldn't.
Here are 4 things not to do if you want your child to develop healthy teeth and gums.
Neglect daily oral hygiene. To set the best long-term course for optimum oral health, begin cleaning the inside of your child's mouth even before they have teeth. Simply use a clean wet washcloth to wipe their gums after feeding to reduce bacterial growth. Once you begin seeing teeth, start brushing them every day with just a smear of toothpaste; at about age 2 you can increase that to a pea-sized amount. And don't forget to teach them when they're ready to brush and floss on their own!
Allow unlimited sugar consumption. Besides the effect it has on overall health, sugar is also a prime food source for disease-causing oral bacteria. You can reduce the sugar available for bacterial growth by avoiding sugary snacks and limiting sweet foods to meal times. Less sugar means less bacterial growth—and a lower risk of tooth decay for your child.
Put them to bed with a sugary liquid-filled bottle. Although a bedtime bottle may help calm your baby to sleep, it could also increase their risk of tooth decay. Allowing them to sip on sugar-filled liquids like juice, milk, formula or even breast milk encourages bacterial growth. Bacteria in turn produce acid, which can dissolve the minerals in enamel and open the door to tooth decay. Sipping through the night also deprives saliva of adequate time to neutralize acid.
Wait on dental visits until they're older. Dental and pediatric associations all recommend first taking your child to the dentist sooner rather than later—by their first birthday. Starting dental visits early will help you stay ahead of any developing tooth decay or other oral problems. And just as important, your child will have an easier time "warming up" to the dental office environment at a younger age than if you wait. Dental visit anxiety, on the other hand, could continue into adulthood and interfere with regular dental care.
If you would like more information on the best dental care practices for your child, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
What's your favorite winter sport? For some, it's all about swooshing down a snowy trail on skis, a board, or a sled. For others, the main attraction is skating at an ice rink or a frozen pond. If you're more of an indoors athlete, you may enjoy a fast-moving game of basketball or a round of squash. Or, you might take a turn on a climbing wall or a trampoline.
What do all these activities have in common? They're fun, they're great exercise…and they all come with a risk of injury to your teeth.
It's easy to see how a collision on snow or ice could result in a blow to the mouth. But did you know that basketball (along with hockey) is among the sports with the highest risk of facial injury? What's more, many "non-contact" sports actually have a similar risk.
Located front and center in the face, the incisors (front teeth) are the ones most likely to sustain injury. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible teeth in your smile. With all of the advances in modern dentistry, it's possible to restore or replace damaged teeth in almost any situation—but the cost can be high, both for present restoration and future preservation. Is there a better alternative?
Yes! It isn't sitting at home—it's wearing a custom-made mouthguard when there's a risk of facial injury.
Most people don't ski or play hockey without protective gear like a helmet. A mouthguard can effectively protect against dental injury that might otherwise be serious. Available here at the dental office, a custom mouthguard is made from an exact model of your own teeth, so it's comfortable to wear and fits perfectly—but no safety equipment can work if you don't use it!
So whether you like to hit the trails or the gym this winter, don't forget to bring a custom-made mouthguard. It's a small piece of gear that can save you from a big headache!
If you would like more information on mouthguards, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
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