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

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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:

Also

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.

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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.

Really.

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.

What’s All This about Activated Charcoal?

charcoalOf course, oil pulling is just one of a number of natural at-home health practices that more and more folks have been talking about. Another you may be hearing more about these days is activated charcoal. Claims about it range from instant teeth whitening to a good digestive cleanse.

But what do we know about it really?

We’re Not Talking Briquettes

When you hear “charcoal,” your thoughts probably turn to the stuff you might fuel your barbecue grill with. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen. This makes it more porous, which makes it more absorbent.

This is why it’s been a go-to treatment for overdose or poisoning. It absorbs toxins so they can’t be absorbed into the stomach.

A classic and frequently cited early demonstration with charcoal was the ingestion of a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal by Tovery before the 1831 French Academy of Medicine. Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. Similarly, the American physician Hort, by administering oral charcoal, reportedly saved the life of a patient in 1834 who ingested mercury bichloride.

When used for acute poisoning, activated charcoal is given in extremely large doses. But in small doses, it can be used as a supplement.

Activated charcoal comes in a powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. The powder is typically mixed with water for topical applications on teeth or as a face mask. The liquid and pill forms are typically ingested in small doses (along with large amounts of water) to help with digestion or to remove harmful toxins like mold from the body (yep, mold – in the body).

What’s Charcoal Good For?

A literature review in the Natural Medicine Journal found good or still unclear scientific evidence for activated charcoal’s use in treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. The author also mentions a range of other uses of the supplement based on tradition, hypotheses, or limited research. These include

Aging, asthma, blood disorders, blood purifier, bronchial asthma, deodorant, disease diagnosis, inflammatory skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, ulcerative colitis.

But it has its uses in dentistry, as well. For instance, mercury-safe dentists may give patients charcoal before and after removing a patient’s amalgam fillings to protect against any mercury that may accidentally be swallowed during the procedures. (Others use chlorella, a single-celled micro-algae that’s also effective for detox.)

It’s also something that some of our patients may be recommended as part of their formal detox regimen, as it binds heavy metals so well.

activated charcoal supplementIncreasingly, we also see people using it at home for teeth whitening – as has been done throughout history. In addition to removing stains, it may also improve oral pH and help keep oral flora in balance (supporting the helpful bacteria, fighting the harmful). Because of this, it’s also said to help tame bad breath, as well.

That said, if you have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, using charcoal can stain such restorations terribly. If you have any, cleaning with charcoal is not for you.

And if you’re thinking about taking activated charcoal as a supplement? Do consult a qualified integrative or naturopathic practitioner before you begin – particularly if you are taking other supplements or medications (including homeopathic ones), or if you are currently being treated for any health conditions. Even supplements can have bad interactions or may trigger troubling side effects.

How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

Want to Beat Tooth Decay? Address the Cause

There are plenty of reasons to say no to fluoridation, but what about fluoride applied directly to the teeth?

If the idea is to prevent decay, a new study in the Journal of Dental Research suggests that, at best, it may minimize damage but not prevent it all together.

fluoride varnish For this study, researchers followed 1248 young, caries-free children over the course of three years. (“Caries” is the clinical term for tooth decay.) Half the kids got a “preventive package” of fluoride varnish, fluoride toothpaste, toothbrush, and standard dental education every 6 months. The other group got education only.

By the end of the study, 39% of the kids in the control group had developed caries. So had 34% of those who got fluoride.

The mean number of cavities was 9.6 in the control group…and 7.2 in the fluoride group.

The “success” of fluoride here is clearly underwhelming.

The trial had high retention and compliance rates but failed to demonstrate that it did keep children caries free. There is evidence from the trial that once children develop caries, the intervention does slow down its progression. [emphasis added]

So what if, instead of trying to mitigate damage we were to actually prevent it by addressing its cause?

That cause is, of course, the overconsumption of sugars. In the rush to fluoridate, this tends to be forgotten. As another paper in the JDR put it,

The importance of sugars as a cause of caries is underemphasized and not prominent in preventive strategies. This is despite overwhelming evidence of its unique role in causing a worldwide caries epidemic. Why this neglect? One reason is that researchers mistakenly consider caries to be a multifactorial disease; they also concentrate mainly on mitigating factors, particularly fluoride. However, this is to misunderstand that the only cause of caries is dietary sugars. These provide a substrate for cariogenic oral bacteria to flourish and to generate enamel-demineralizing acids. Modifying factors such as fluoride and dental hygiene would not be needed if we tackled the single cause—sugars. [emphasis added]

Other research suggests that caries can be prevented by limiting sugar intake to less than 3% of your total daily calories. (For a 2000-calorie per day diet, that’s just 60 calories or about 15.5 grams of sugar a day; for a 1500-calorie diet, a mere 45 calories or about 11.5 grams. To put that in perspective, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola and 47 grams in a bag of Skittles.)

At the same time, increasing intake of nutrient-dense whole foods further supports your teeth’s natural ability to remineralize, protecting them from the oral pathogens (“bad bugs”) that cause decay. Toothpastes containing theobromine may also be helpful as a part of a good, overall home hygiene plan.

Bottom line? Decay and cavities are not inevitable. But preventing them isn’t up to fluoride. It’s up to you.

Image via healthcare-news

We’re #45! The State of Our State’s Oral Health

Texas flag in shape of stateTexas does not come out looking good in the latest rankings on dental health.

According to a pair of reports recently released by WalletHub, Texas ranks near the bottom for

  • The lowest percentage of kids with excellent/very good teeth (#47).
  • The highest percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year (#46).
  • Highest percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to an oral condition (#51 – dead last).

Overall, Texas ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia ranked worse. While our “Dental Habits and Care” rank is a middle-of-the-road 27, our state’s “Oral Health” rank is a miserable 47.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement. (And in case you’re wondering, Minnesota was #1 in overall dental health.)

As we’ve noted before, good oral health habits start in youth. The foundation of healthy eating, proper hygiene, and regular dental visits should be laid early. Taking an active, preventive approach to your child’s oral health can mean fewer (and cheaper) dental visits for their lifetime.

Kids who grow up with dental neglect as the norm often become those adults who shun the dentist.

In some cases, it’s because it’s just not something they do, but in other cases, anxiety may be at the root of it. Sometimes the fear is of finding out about problems caused by years of neglect and the cost of addressing them. Sometimes, a bad dental experience can grow into dental fear. Others struggle with their response to particular sounds, smells, or sensations experienced during treatment.

Whatever the cause, there are ways to get the better of that fear – from herbal remedies (e.g., valerian root) to listening to relaxing music through headphones to sedation dentistry.

The most important thing? Let your dentist, hygienists, and assistants know about your apprehensions. We want to do everything we can to help make their visits as relaxing, gentle, and pleasant as possible.

For good oral health is essential to your quality of life. Low life satisfaction can result when oral problems make it hard to eat and chew, for instance, or embarrassment over the state of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, “More than one out of three low-income adults say they avoid smiling and 17 percent report difficulty doing usual activities because of the condition of their mouth and teeth.”

Indeed, oral health is, as the title of a study last year in the Journals of Gerontology put it, a “neglected aspect of subjective well-being.”

A deterioration in oral health and oral health–related quality of life increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults and highlights the importance of oral health as a determinant of subjective well-being in later life.

In the end, it’s important to remember that dental healthcare doesn’t need to be scary and can be a solution to increasing overall life satisfaction. Talk with your dentist about options that may be available to help you get through any concerns you and your family have.

While it might cause temporary stress and anxiety, remember that regular visits for cleaning and check-ups, partnered with healthy lifestyle and dental habits like avoiding processed foods and brushing and flossing daily, can save you a lot of stress in the long run – both emotional and financial.

Image by AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek