Why You Need Sleep – & Tips for Getting More of It (Better Quality Sleep, Too!)

A lot of people don’t realize this, but sleep loss is second only to smoking as a risk factor for gum disease.

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to why you need to sleep.

This, of course, raises the question of what you can do to get more sleep, and better quality sleep, into your daily routine. Dr. Mercola offers some helpful tips:

You can also read through his tips here.

What do you find most helpful for encouraging a good night’s sleep? Share your observations in the comments!

Supporting a Healthy Body Supports a Healthy Mouth

girl with tabletHow much time do you spend sitting each day? Probably more than you’d care to. Many of us spend the vast majority of our time every day seated – usually in front of a screen of some kind.

Unfortunately, all this sitting is a major contributor to poor health. And it’s not just adults who have gone sedentary. Kids are in on the trend, too, with screen time up and physical activity is down. As the authors of a recent paper in Obesity Facts noted, surveys have shown that 6- to 11-year olds are inactive for roughly 6.4 hours a day. Among teens, that jumps to nearly 8 hours a day.

Physical activity, on the other hand, is declining. Of boys between 3 and 10 years of age, 11.7% participate in sports less than once or twice a week, and 11.7% do not engage in any sports at all, with even lower levels of physical inactivity in girls of the same age

Suffice it to say, those numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Ideally, screen time should be balanced with more opportunities for kids to keep moving. Their developing bodies and minds need physical activity. Too much screen time, on the other hand, can make inactivity seem the norm. It encourages sedentary behavior.

So what can we do to reduce screen time? A few ideas:

  • Many kids are sent to watch TV or play on a tablet while the adults prepare dinner. Try to involve the kids by having them help cook or set the table.

  • Eat dinner together at the table, away from the TV. It’s a great opportunity for talking with each other about how your day went and what you did and saw, as well as making plans for the following day or week.

  • Incorporate a family activity after dinner such as a neighborhood walk or light yoga. Yoga Calm is one of several excellent programs of yoga for kids. Or play a game together rather than watching a TV show or movie. Many simple card and board games can be played at practically any age.

  • Put some coloring or activity books out on the table or floor to occupy the kids during busy moments rather than sitting them in front of the TV or putting a tablet in their hands.

The American Academy of Pediatricians provides guidelines for screen time, harnessing the good digital media can do while keeping screens from completely dominating your child’s waking hours. Again, balance is key.

For sedentary time may also contribute to chronic inflammation – and where there’s chronic inflammation, there’s usually gum disease. In fact, inflammation is one of the things that links gum disease to a whole host of systemic health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and some cancers.

Simply put, supporting a health body supports a healthy mouth.

Image by Nick Olejniczak

Our Sugar-Saturated Environment (and What You Can Do About It)

white sugarWith all we know today about the harmful effects of sugar, why are we still drawn to it like, well, kids in a candy store?

Sure, as many have pointed out, we seem to be hardwired to like sweet flavors. This fact is easily exploited by the makers – and, importantly, marketers – of processed food products.

One way of doing it? Spin the science.

As the Chicago Tribune reported late last year, research proving the harmful effects of sugar – including its contribution to heart disease and cancer – has existed for decades. Why haven’t more people heard about it? Because it was never made public.

Early results in August 1970 indicated that rats fed a high-sugar diet experienced an increase in blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that contributes to cholesterol.

Rats fed loads of sugar also appeared to have elevated levels of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme previously associated with bladder cancer in humans, the researchers said.

Months after receiving these results, the International Sugar Research Foundation failed to approve an additional 12 weeks of funding that the Birmingham researchers needed to complete their work, according to the authors behind the new investigation.

Notably, the team of UCSF researchers who exposed this cover-up, headed by Stanton Glanz, is the same team who exposed the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing efforts. And what they’ve shown so far suggests that the sugar biz is very much operating by Big Tobacco’s playbook.

Corporations will seemingly do most anything to keep their profits up.

In fact, the sugar industry even went as far as to manipulate dental research on the relationship between sugar and caries (tooth decay). As the Glanz team demonstrated in an earlier paper, industry actually helped set the research agenda for the National Institute of Dental Research.

Industry tactics included the following: funding research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay with questionable potential for widespread application, cultivation of relationships with the NIDR leadership, consulting of members on an NIDR expert panel, and submission of a report to the NIDR that became the foundation of the first request for proposals issued for the NCP. Seventy-eight percent of the sugar industry submission was incorporated into the NIDR’s call for research applications. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests was omitted from priorities identified at the launch of the NCP. [emphasis added]

Addressing the primary cause of decay – too much sugar – was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

And it certainly can seem that way when you recognize how much sugar infuses our food supply or look at more obvious types of marketing, especially that targeting kids. Ads for sweet soft drinks, candy, breakfast cereals, and other sugar bombs can be found everywhere on TV, online, in video games, and more.

According to a 2017 study in Appetite, this marketing is directly related to increased consumption.

The study evaluated sugary cereal consumption for preschoolers in southern New Hampshire who saw commercials for these products on TV. (On TV, high sugar breakfast cereals, or SBCs, are the single most marketed product to kids.) Over 500 families participated. Both TV viewing and SBC consumption were documented.

In the past week, 56.9% of children ate SBCs advertised on kids’ channels. Overall, 40.6% of children were exposed to child-targeted SBC TV ads in the past week.

For every 10 SBC ads seen in the previous week, consumption rose 14%.

Suffice it to say, it’s up to us to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, despite the sugar-loaded culture around us. That can start by being a good role model and cutting back our own sugar intake.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Read labels. Just because something is marketed as organic or “healthy” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have indulgent ingredients. Sugars are one of the highest ingredients in protein bars or shakes. And if you’re grabbing a “healthy” drink such as almond milk or kombucha, choose one with little or no sugar.

  • Sweeten your water or tea with a splash of natural fruit juice rather than sugar or syrup.

  • Try some baking alternatives with applesauce instead of sugar.

  • Remember that carbs are digested as sugar. Try replacing pasta with vegetables like spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini.

  • Moderation! Everything adds up. Small changes can make a big impact over time. And many, many small indulgences can add up over time just as well (if not more easily).

  • If quitting sugar cold turkey doesn’t work for you, reduce gradually. This is better than no change at all.

Image by Umberto Salvagnin

Some Refreshing News about America’s Soda Habit

Here’s some refreshing news about Americans and soda: We’re finally drinking less of the stuff.

soda can topTen years ago, on any given day, over 61% of adults and nearly 80% of kids drank such beverages, none of which are particularly friendly to teeth (not to mention the rest of you).

According to new research in the journal Obesity, in 2014, just 50% of adults and 60.7% of children drank them.

Of course, that still leaves a lot of us drinking a lot of sugar. Still, such a significant reduction is an important step forward.

The study monitored data from 18,600 children and over 27,652 adults across 10 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

This overall decline in both beverage and [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent “turning point” toward lower energy intake in the US diet, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage of the role of certain foods (e.g., SSBs) in promoting obesity, changes to food allowances within the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, improvements to school feeding programs, and product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers.

On the downside, consumption rates remain highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic teens – all groups at high risk of obesity and diabetes.

On the upside, the study also found that fruit juice consumption is down, as well. As we’ve noted before, fruit juice is essentially concentrated sugar and a major cause of tooth decay among young children in particular.

boy getting drink of waterWhat kids are drinking more of is what we all should be drinking more of: water.

Among children, the prevalence of 100% juice consumption declined significantly among 12- to 19-year-olds, water increased significantly across all age groups, and no significant changes were seen for coffee and tea, milk, or diet beverage consumption for any age group.

And this may not be a short term trend. Earlier this year, a major trade publication noted that soda sales have been declining for twelve years and counting.

The per capita consumption of soda drinks, including energy drinks, fell to about 642 8-ounce servings last year, the lowest level since 1985, when the Beverage Digest began tracking consumption trends….

Despite the fact that two of the biggest of the soda companies suspiciously fund 96 US health groups – including the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health – more people are seeing this as little more than an attempt to influence public health policy and maintain profits. Consumer education has been a big help, as have soda taxes, with the money going to fund various health programs.

In 2015, Berkeley, California introduced a soda tax after years of battling the industry. They’ve now seen a drop in sales by nearly 10% – and a spike in water sales, as well.

One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax.

That said, water doesn’t always satisfy the urge for a sweet soft drink, especially if you’re going through a detox by gradually reducing your sugar intake. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Drink tea – hot or cold. Many spice teas have an inherent sweetness, as do some herb teas such as ginger lemon.
  • Splash a bit of lemon or lime into your water.
  • Infuse your own water with fruit, herbs, or vegetables. Here are a few ideas.
  • Make a veg-centric smoothie. Here are some tips for making sure yours is balanced and not a sugar-bomb.
  • Make your own fresh juice with fresh vegetables and fruit. Again, balance is key. Think green.

Bottom image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Healthier Handouts This Halloween

kids trick-or-treatingWe all know that candy and other sugary foods top the lists of those that lead to tooth decay. But sometimes it’s hard to balance the need to go easy on sugar with holiday traditions. As Halloween approaches, you might find yourself grabbing bags of candy to put on your front porch simply out of habit.

But why not expand the definition of “treats”?

Kids love treats. All treats – not just the sugary ones but also things like toys, fake tattoos, markers, and games.

Want to hear it straight from the source? According to a recent survey of over 1200 kids from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, they have a lot of opinions on it.

Though most kids (60%) said parents should limit kids’ candy intake, plenty of kids (50%) said they did not have any limits. But more than 60% of kids said they voluntarily set their own limits. Why? To avoid getting fat, feeling sick, or getting cavities in their teeth.

In fact, only about 20% of kids say they eat all their Halloween candy. So why not consider treats that can be enjoyed beyond the holiday?

“I think people should give out fun markers/crayons, stickers, pencils, and anything else they think kids will like,” said Hannah, 11. “They should do this because it prevents kids (somewhat) from becoming overweight and it lasts longer than candy.”

And just how much sugar and fat do kids typically consume on Halloween? According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

One pumpkin full of Halloween candy can have as much as 365 teaspoons of sugar; the same amount of sugar in 12 double scoop vanilla ice cream cones (which can be nearly 69 times the recommended daily serving of sugar for kids)…. In total this could total nearly 11,000 calories.

“Allowing your child to consume nearly 11,000 calories in Halloween candy is like standing by and watching them eat almost seven days’ worth of food in one sitting, or 21 meals based on 3 meals a day for a child,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director, Strong4Life at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “There are so many fun things to do for Halloween that have nothing to do with candy. It should be about getting dressed up and going door to door, and family time.”

It’s also important to consider that many families and kids also can’t have the candy that gets handed out. Dairy and nut allergies make the night very challenging, as do family food restrictions, but houses handing out candy-free options are all-inclusive. Any kid can have these treats.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was created with these families in mind and has a ton of great resources including non-food treat suggestions and signs that you can post in your office cubicle or on the front of your house.

non-food Halloween treats

Been giving out non-food or other healthier treats for a while now? What do you hand out? How do the kids react? Share your experience and ideas in the comments!

Image by Belinda Hankins Miller



Bad Breath: Why You’ve Got It & How to Get Rid of It

open mouthHear “bad breath” and chances are you can instantly think of a person or two with this problem – maybe even yourself.

It’s a common issue, after all. One new review of the science in Clinical Oral Investigations found that it afflicted more than 30% of participants – nearly one in three people. What’s more, those numbers seem to be on the rise.

Our results demonstrated that the estimated prevalence of halitosis was 31.8%, with high heterogeneity between studies. The results suggest a worldwide trend towards a rise in halitosis prevalence.

Why so much halitosis (the clinical term for bad breath)? It’s not just from eating stinky foods such as garlic, onions, and strong spices. In fact, most cases spring from oral conditions.

Although halitosis has multifactorial origins, the source of 90% cases is [issues in the] oral cavity such as poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, tongue coat, food impaction, unclean dentures, faulty restorations, oral carcinomas, and throat infections.

The mouth provides ideal conditions for the growth of harmful bacteria. It’s dark, moist, and contains hard-to-reach, low-oxygen areas such as periodontal pockets in which these pathogens can thrive.

There are hundreds of bacterial species that live in even the cleanest mouth. Many are helpful. Some are harmful. And according to the paper quoted above,

most of them are capable to produce odorous compounds which can cause halitosis.

The answer, of course, starts with better hygiene: brushing (including your tongue), flossing, rinsing, and thoroughly cleaning any appliances or prosthetics you wear.

Essential oils such as cinnamon and lemongrass can be quite helpful in controlling oral bacteria, yeasts, and other pathogens (“bad bugs”). Such oils can be found in many natural mouthwashes, but you can also make your own at home quickly and easily.

That said, there are some cases in which bad breath is a sign of more significant issues that should be addressed by a dentist or physician. These include oral infections, respiratory problems, GI disease, metabolic conditions, and more.

If ramped up hygiene isn’t enough to help your breath, do talk with your healthcare providers.

More tips for taming bad breath

Image by Allsha Vargas

Why You Need to Tend to Your Teeth: Meet the Bacteria in Your Mouth

S. mutansSome are good guys; others, not so much. Good oral health means maintaining a proper balance of good to bad – and not just bacteria, but fungi and other microbial critters that hang out in even the cleanest of mouths. (In fact, recent research has shown that the yeast Candida interacts with the bacterium S. mutans to create especially strong oral biofilms [plaque].)

Unfortunately, those bad guys don’t necessarily stay confined to the mouth. And that’s the beginning of the link between gum disease and other inflammatory health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more.

This excellent short video will help you visualize what’s happening in your mouth when the balance is upset and how bacteria get from there to other parts of your body:


That Warrior Pose Could Be Good for Your Gums, Too!

Warrior 2 poseYoga is traditionally thought of as a way to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, and reduce stress. Sure, it does all of that, but did you know that it’s linked to healthier teeth and gums, too?

One way is by improving blood flow. As a recent post at India’s Tribune noted,

The strength of our teeth is directly related to the strength of our bones. The organ responsible for stimulating the growth of bones is the pituitary gland. So any posture or asana like sirshasana [a headstand pose], which will stimulate more blood to this gland will increase the strength of bones and teeth.

Here are more poses that can help with circulation.

Then there’s yoga’s well-known ability to reduce stress. Chronic stress is one of the major risk factors for gum disease. It can also lead to bruxing – habitual clenching and grinding – which can cause gum recession and damage teeth.

But there’s another way in which stress can have a negative impact on your oral health. As a paper earlier this year in the International Journal of Dentistry Research noted, it can lead us to neglect our oral health.

People who are stressed are less likely to give their teeth and gums the proper oral care. Yoga is one of the most effective treatment[s] for stress. Yoga reduce[s] the stress, improve[s] the [oxidative] status of body, improve[s] the immune system, and reduces chronic gingival inflammation. Yoga also improve[s] the life style more towards the natural. All these effects help…in better maintenance of oral hygiene, and reduction in gingival inflammation and prevention of dental diseases.

Other benefits the authors note include maintaining a healthy balance of saliva, preventing autonomic dysregulation, and managing health overall.

Other research has shown yoga’s ability to reduce inflammation. For instance, a 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that regular yoga practice lowers levels of two key markers of inflammation, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and Interleukin-6 (IL-6).

It also reduces the extent of increase of TNF-α and IL-6 to a physical challenge of moderate exercise and strenuous exercise. There is no significant gender difference in the TNF-α and IL-6 levels. Regular practice of yoga can protect the individual against inflammatory diseases by favourably altering pro-inflammatory cytokine levels.

Even yoga’s impact on posture can affect your oral-systemic health. As Yoganonymous notes,

Poor posture can affect just about every part of your body, including your mouth. When one’s posture is poor, it can cause the lower jaw to move forward. It can even affect the alignment of the teeth and result in a condition called TMJ disorder. TMJ disorder can result in dental problems, such as teeth grinding. It can also cause a person to have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Additionally, TMJ disorder can cause pain in the face and jaw.

Not to mention the head, neck, and shoulders. Yoga may help prevent TMJ problems from arising in the first place, but it can also be one way to find some relief from the pain (in addition to long-term dental solutions).

Partner yoga with practices like good home hygiene and mindful nutrition, and you only add to the whole-body approach to maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Image by lululemon athletica

Probiotics, Prebiotics, & Oral Health

bacteriaMost all of us grow up being taught that “germs” cause disease and that the best defense is to kill them. But science has shown that this is an oversimplification.

We know that the environment in which pathogens exist makes a big difference in whether they thrive or not – just as soil quality and other environmental factors determine whether a plant thrives or not.

We also know that our bodies contain more bacteria than human cells. We’re beginning to understand how the makeup of our microbiome can affect our health for better or for worse. As microbiological John G. Thomas has put it,

The accepted concept today is that there are multiple organisms with the ability to interact in multiple ways. The means of bringing these biofilm communities back into balance is best achieved not through use of antimicrobials, but by reestablishing a normal flora, aided by probiotic agents.

You already probably know a bit about probiotics – bacteria that support good health. You can get them naturally through fermented foods, yogurt, and some cheeses. You can also get them through supplements or foods fortified with them. So far, the research on their dental benefits in particular has been quite promising, showing how probiotics may stave off caries (tooth decay), periodontal (gum) disease, bad breath, and more.

Meanwhile, the focus has shifted away from “killing germs” to supporting the balance of helpful and harmful bacteria in the mouth. Indeed, it would be impossible – let alone desirable – to remove all microbes from the mouth, or even just the bad ones. There are billions of them in even the cleanest mouth, representing several hundred different species.

What we want is for the good to outweigh microbes like P. gingivalis and S. mutans that generate oral disease. Probiotics may help, and so might prebiotics.

Where probiotics are the actual healthy bacteria, prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that help probiotics work their magic. Again, Dr. Thomas:

Prebiotics are food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system, in ways claimed to be beneficial to health. Marcel Roberfroid offered a refined definition in the Journal of Nutrition stating, “A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.” Prebiotics effectively stimulate the colonization of the probiotic microorganisms, providing an initial advantage to their adherence.

Earlier this year, scientists writing in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology identified two compounds that could be effective as oral prebiotics specifically.

Two compounds, beta-methyl-d-galactoside and N-acetyl-d-mannosamine, could be identified as potential oral prebiotic compounds, triggering selectively beneficial oral bacteria throughout the experiments and shifting dual species biofilm communities towards a beneficial dominating composition at in vitro level.

Our observations support the hypothesis that nutritional stimulation of beneficial bacteria by prebiotics could be used to restore the microbial balance in the oral cavity and by this promote oral health.

Even though much research remains to be done on prebiotics for oral health, some hygiene products have begun to emerge. It’s a bit too early to gauge how helpful they may be.

Stay tuned for further developments…

Ditch the Juice, Go for the Whole Fruit

oranges and juiceHow much juice should you let your kids drink? If they’re younger than one, zero, zilch, nada.

That’s according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And that’s the best part of the news.

Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.

But that implies some nutritional benefit to kids over a year old. And that’s a sketchy claim at best. As nutritional consultant Dr. Mike Roussell has put it,

There aren’t any benefits to drinking fruit juice over eating whole fruits. In fact, eating whole fruit is a better choice. In regards to vegetables, the only benefit to vegetables juices is that it might enhance your consumption of vegetables; but you’ll miss out on some key health benefits by juicing.

As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out years ago, when you eat whole fruit, you get the total nutritional package: vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients. When you juice, these get delivered with concentrated sugar – sometimes even more sugar than you’d get in a can of soda pop.


And that’s not good at any age. As one 2016 review put it, while there are still research gaps to be bridged by science,

Sufficient evidence links a high intake of sugar to dental caries and obesity, and high intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages in particular to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other research has confirmed that, like diet soda, fruit juice is not apt to be a “healthy alternative…to sugar sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

“Fruit juice,” notes the AAP, “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

Whole fruit, on the other hand, has such a role. Many fruits also tend to be high in vitamin C, which is essential for healthy gums. Crunchy fruit such as apples also help stimulate saliva flow that helps protect the teeth.

And what does juice do? Bathes the teeth in sugar and acids, destroying tooth enamel and making the teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Ditch the juice. Go for the fruit.