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Westminster, MD 21157
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Posts for tag: nutrition

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
May 17, 2017
Category: Oral Health
ArtificialSweetenersareByandLargeaSafeAlternativetoSugar

Refined sugar is a prime food source for disease-causing oral bacteria. As bacteria consume sugar they produce high levels of acid that over time can erode enamel and leave a tooth vulnerable for decay.

The solution to stopping this vicious process is simple: cut back on eating refined sugar. The reality, though, is a bit more complicated. Many of us seem genetically hard-wired with a “sweet tooth,” perhaps a remnant of our early ancestors' sense that sweet foods were a safe means to obtain energy.

Food manufacturers likewise don't help with making this dietary change — the number of items with added sugar has ballooned over the last several decades. We can trace a lot of this back to the unintended consequences of past government guidelines that called for removing fat from processed foods. But this also removed flavor, so manufacturers began adding sugar (under a myriad of names) to compensate.

Sugar consumption is now a hot health topic for its suspected connection with inflammatory diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as dental health. We now have a love-hate relationship with sugar — we want to show it the door but we can't quite bring ourselves to let it go.

The situation has created a market for artificial sweeteners. The amount and types of sugar alternatives has exploded since saccharine first emerged in the early 1960s. With these increased choices, though, there have also been increased concerns over their health impact, including in the mouth.

This concern has prompted numerous research studies. The conclusion: artificial sweeteners don't adversely affect the health of most people. And, from a dental perspective, artificial sweeteners can have a positive impact on teeth and gum health because unlike refined sugar they don't promote oral bacterial growth.

In fact, one particular sweetener may be even more beneficial to your teeth: xylitol. This sweetener, which comes from a sugar alcohol that oral bacteria can't digest, is often found in chewing gums, hard candies or mints.  In effect, xylitol “starves out” bacteria to help prevent tooth decay.

From a dental perspective, replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener (especially xylitol) can be advantageous. And less sugar could mean more good news after your next dental checkup.

If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
January 21, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition   tooth decay  
TakeStepstoReduceMouthAcidandAvoidDentalErosion

Your teeth’s hard, enamel coating protects them from environmental dangers or disease. But although it’s made of the hardest substance in the human body, enamel isn’t invincible — prolonged exposure to acid can cause dental erosion, a condition in which the enamel’s mineral content permanently dissolves, a process known as de-mineralization.

De-mineralization occurs anytime our mouth environment becomes too acidic due to eating or drinking items with high acid content. Saliva normally neutralizes mouth acid in thirty minutes to an hour after we eat, as well as restores mineral content to the enamel (re-mineralization). Danger arises, though, if the saliva’s buffering action is overwhelmed by chronic acidity, caused mainly by constant snacking or sipping on acidic foods and beverages throughout the day — in this situation, saliva can’t complete the process of buffering and re-mineralization.

As a result, the enamel may permanently lose its mineral content and strength over time. This permanent dental erosion leads to serious consequences: the teeth become more susceptible to decay; the dentin becomes exposed, which causes pain and sensitivity to pressure and temperature changes; and changes in the teeth’s size and color can negatively alter your appearance.

It’s important to take action then before dental erosion occurs. Along with daily oral hygiene, restrict your consumption of acidic foods and beverages to meal times and cut back on between-meal snacks. Rather than a sports drink after exercising, drink nature’s hydrator — water. You should also alter your brushing habits slightly — rather than brush right after you eat, wait thirty minutes to an hour. This gives saliva time to restore the mouth to its normal pH and re-mineralize the enamel. Brushing right after can remove even more of the minerals in softened enamel.

If significant erosion has occurred, there are a number of treatment options we can undertake to preserve remaining tooth structure and enhance your appearance. In moderate cases, we can reshape and cover damaged teeth using dental materials like composite resins or porcelain to fill decayed areas or cover teeth with veneers or crowns.

The key of course, is to identify dental erosion through clinical examination as soon as possible to minimize damage. Your enamel plays a critical role in protecting your teeth from disease — so take the right steps to protect your enamel.

If you would like more information on protecting your enamel, 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 “Dental Erosion.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
August 01, 2014
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
TheSweetandLowdownonSugarSubstitutes

We’ve all heard about potentially negative health effects from the sugar that’s added to many of our favorite foods. So these days, lots of us are trying to cut down on our consumption of sugar — not only to lose weight, but also to help prevent maladies like diabetes and heart disease. We can’t help noticing those pastel-colored packets — pink, yellow and blue — on the rack of our favorite coffee shop. But now we’re wondering: Are those sugar substitutes a good alternative to natural sugar? And which one should we choose?

Artificial sweeteners have been around for decades. Six different types (including the ones in the colorful packets) are currently approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration; a couple of older ones (notably cyclamates) have been banned for many years. In addition to those zero-calorie sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners called sugar alcohols (for example, mannitol and xylitol) are often used as food ingredients. So what’s the difference between them — and which one is best?

That’s not so easy to answer. If you have a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria, you should avoid aspartame (the blue packet), because your body can’t process the substance. Otherwise, the choice may come down to a matter of taste. Even though they are FDA-approved, some controversy (both fact-based and far-fetched) remains about the long-term safety of sugar substitutes, and their usefulness in preventing obesity and other diseases.

Yet it’s clear that for some people, the consequences of consuming too much sugar could be much worse. So if you’re at risk for diabetes or certain other diseases, sugar substitutes can be an important tool in maintaining a healthier diet. They also have another health benefit: sugar substitutes don’t cause cavities. Further, some sugar alcohols (xylitol in particular) have the property of stimulating saliva flow, and have been shown to actually impede the formation of cavities. Oral health is an important (if sometimes overlooked) component of your general well-being, and several studies have pointed to a link between oral and systemic diseases — for example, diabetes and heart disease.

As with so many aspects of our health, there seems to be no “magic bullet” to cure all our diet-related problems. But used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be a valuable part of the effort to improve our overall health and well-being. For more information on this topic, see the Dear Doctor article “Artificial Sweeteners.”