Office Hours: Monday - Thursday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Smoking And Your Teeth

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and lung cancer, but even before those potentially deadly diseases develop, regular smokers are more likely to begin losing their teeth. A new study from Britain’s University of Birmingham and the German Institute of Human Nutrition determined that men who smoke are 3.6 times more prone to lose their teeth than non-smokers, while among women smokers the risk is 2.5 times higher. The researchers based their conclusions on data gathered from 23,376 participants in a long-term study in Germany. Part of the problem is that smoking is a strong risk factor in promoting tooth decay and gum disease, both of which can lead to tooth loss. The investigators noted that smoking can mask bleeding gums, a key symptom of gum disease, so that a smoker’s gums may look healthier than they actually are. The good news is that quitting smoking can reverse the increased risk of tooth loss, although the researchers wrote that it could take more than 10 years for the risk to equal that of someone who never smoked. 

4 Healthy Snacks That Can Ruin Your Teeth

When it comes to protecting your teeth, twice-daily brushing and flossing is the best route, along with consistent dental exams. But you may also want to moderate certain foods that may be harmful to your teeth. 

  • Unsweetened Dried Fruit: While raisins, figs, and dried apricots can be a more healthful snack option than a candy bar, they're still high in sugar and non-soluble cellulose fiber, which can bind and trap those sugars around the tooth to the same extent as saltwater taffy. Your best bet? Enjoy them in moderation and try opting for the fresh version as much as possible. 
  • Banana and Sweet Potato Chips: Although sweet potato and banana chips are a healthier alternative to regular potato chips, the similar texture can still wreak havoc on your teeth. Due to their texture, chips are processed as sugar when digested. Additionally, food particles from these carbs tend to linger by sticking in the grooves of teeth, creating a breeding ground for acid.
  • Popcorn: Plain popcorn itself is a healthy, low-calorie, whole grain food with four grams of fiber per three cups. Much like chips, however, popcorn can wedge between teeth and foster bacterial growth. Un-popped kernels are even worse because the hard texture can potentially break your teeth.
  • Citrus Fruits: Although fruits such as oranges, kiwis, lemons, and grapefruit are great sources of vitamin C, they are also high in enamel-damaging acid. Enjoy citrus fruits in moderation to minimize their impact on your teeth.

What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling - swishing sesame or sunflower oil around the mouth without swallowing for 15 to 20 minutes every morning - is an Ayurvedic practice that is promoted as a way to prevent a host of health concerns related to the mouth. These include the prevention of:

  • Tooth decay
  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dryness of the throat
  • Cracked lips

It is also touted as a way to cure a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no compelling evidence that it works. The only study I found that had actual, positive results was from an Indian dental study that evaluated the effects of oil pulling on bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) in plaque and saliva of children, comparing its antiseptic power with that of using a conventional mouthwash containing chlorhexidine. The researchers found a reduction in the bacteria count in the plaque and saliva samples in both the study and the control groups, and concluded that oil pulling can help maintain oral health. Based on this, I would suggest that oil pulling isn’t hazardous to your health, but I don’t see it as an effective means to improve your overall health. A good oral care routine that includes daily brushing and flossing, and regular visits to the dentist is a more sound and evidence-based route to choose.

Do Bad Teeth = Heart Trouble?

The link between poor dental health and cardiovascular disease is still being examined, but results of a large study that looked at data from nearly 16,0000 people from 39 countries add to a growing body of evidence suggesting an association between oral and heart health. All had coronary heart disease and at least one other risk factor for heart problems. Nearly 70 percent were current or former smokers, and it appears the oral health of the participants also left a lot to be desired. Responses to a questionnaire showed that one quarter of the study participants experienced gum bleeding while they brushed their teeth (a sign of gum disease); 41 percent said that they had fewer than 15 teeth left and 16 percent reported having no teeth at all. The research team, from the Uppsala University in Sweden, identified links between periodontal disease (including bleeding gums), tooth loss and other risk factors for heart disease, such as large waist circumference, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. However, the study’s lead author acknowledged that more research is needed to determine whether practicing good dental hygiene can actually help lower the risk of heart disease.

My take? One of the first studies linking oral health and heart disease was published online in the journal Stroke on July 31, 2003. It showed that the more teeth a person has lost, the more likely he or she is to have both advanced periodontal infections and plaques in the carotid arteries that supply the brain with blood. Conceivably, oral health may contribute to heart disease through processes involving inflammation. A secondary contributor to a link may be inadequate nutritional intake. If you lack teeth, you can't optimally process your food and may not get adequate amounts of heart-healthy nutrients and fiber. Research suggests that people with poor oral health should have cardiac exams even if they have no symptoms of heart disease, and the new study supports this recommendation.

Want To Age Gracefully?
It's not about the lines on the face - it's about the wisdom behind them. Don’t lament the passing of the years, celebrate all you have achieved, learned and earned, for your benefit and the benefit of others. Begin today - start your 14-day free trial of Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging now, and save 30% when you join!

Olga Vedin et al, “Periodontal disease in patients with chronic coronary heart disease: Prevalence and association with cardiovascular risk factors,” European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, April 10, 2014, doi: 10.1177/2047487314530660

Acupuncture to Ease Dental Woes

Here’s a potential solution for patients who are always nervous and anxious in a dentist’s chair: researchers in Italy found that acupuncture reduced the likelihood of gagging among patients having impressions taken of their upper and lower teeth. In this small study - only 20 dental patients with a history of gag reflex took part – participants ranging in age 19 to 80 had teeth impressions taken under normal circumstances. They then had the procedure repeated with acupuncture. The first time around, the patients reported an average gag reflex for upper teeth impressions of 7 on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 representing the most nausea and gagging. With acupuncture, the average score was 1 on the 0 to 10 scale. The results for impressions of the lower teeth were similar. The needles were inserted at acupuncture points on the face and wrist about 30 seconds before the impressions were taken. Because this study was so small, the findings will have to be confirmed by further research before they can be widely accepted or considered in clinical practice. The study was published online on November 5, 2013 by the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

Brush and Floss for a Healthy Heart

Improving gum health can actually help slow the development of atherosclerosisHere’s more evidence that taking good care of your teeth and gums benefits your heart. Investigators from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that improving gum health can actually help slow the development of atherosclerosis – the build-up of cholesterol rich plaque along artery walls that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. The research team followed 420 men and women to determine how changes in gum health affects atherosclerosis. Over three years of follow-up, the investigators found that improvements in gum health were paralleled by a slowdown of the process that leads to thickening of artery walls. However, among the study participants whose gum disease worsened, the researchers saw an additional 0.1 millimeters of thickening. "When it comes to atherosclerosis, a tenth of a millimeter in the thickness of the carotid artery is a big deal,” said study co-author Tatjana Rundek M.D., Ph.D., in a press release. When dealing with coronary arteries, that small amount is enough to make a significant difference in heart disease risk. The study was published online on November 1, 2013 by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

My take? We’ve known for some time that the bacteria that cause gum disease can trigger an inflammatory response that promotes a gradual thickening of artery walls throughout the body. Maintaining good dental health is key to preventing atherosclerosis, and as this study shows caring for your teeth and gums can actually reverse this condition and the risk it poses for heart attack and stroke. It is vital to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to avoid the buildup of small amounts of food that attract and nourish bacteria. In addition, be sure to have regular dental checkups so that any gum disease can be identified and treated promptly.

Moïse Desvarieux, MD, PhD et al, “Changes in Clinical and Microbiological Periodontal Profiles Relate to Progression of Carotid Intima‐Media Thickness: The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study,”  Journal of the American Heart Association, doi: 10.1161/​JAHA.113.000254

BPA and Kids’ Teeth

The latest health problem linked to BPA is damage to the enamel of kids’ teeth, particularly the first molars and permanent incisorsBisphenol (BPA) has been used since the 1950s and is commonly found in the plastic linings of food and beverage containers, water bottles, baby bottles and many other consumer products. Research in animals has shown associations between BPA, diabetes and liver damage in adults, as well as possible effects on brain and prostate development in young children and fetuses. The latest health problem linked to this ubiquitous chemical is damage to the enamel of kids’ teeth, particularly the first molars and permanent incisors, that makes these teeth hypersensitive to pain and susceptible to cavities. A French research team has noted that the early years of life, when these teeth are being formed, correspond to the period during which humans are most sensitive to BPA. The investigators said that the dental disorder called MIH (Molar Incisor Hypomineralisation) occurs in roughly 18 percent of children between the ages of six and eight. They reported that in studies with rats, low daily doses of BPA cause the same type of tooth enamel damage being observed in kids. When the researchers compared the damage to rats’ incisors to the teeth of affected children, they found similar indicators as well as fragile and brittle enamel in both. The study was published online on June 12, 2013 in the American Journal of Pathology.

Jedeon, Katia, Muriel De la Dure-Molla, Steven J. Brookes, Sophia Loiodice, Clémence Marciano, Jennifer Kirkham, Marie-Chantal Canivenc-Lavier et al. "Enamel Defects Reflect Perinatal Exposure to Bisphenol A." The American Journal of Pathology (2013).