Thank heavens! With the nation finally able to resume gatherings and (best of all) hugs, social events are returning, and just in time for summer’s warm outdoor weather.
Socializing is good for us, physically and emotionally. In addition to moving us into more active roles when gathered together, staying involved with others is stimulating to our psychological health.
In a February 2018 article published in Medical News Today, it describes how personal interactions activate the release of neurotransmitters that regulate responses to stress and anxiety. In this, oxytocin is released, which lowers cortisol levels. This, in turn, lowers stress.
Social interaction also causes a release of dopamine, which creates a bit of a natural high. And, it acts as a naturally-produced morphine, lessening pain.
The article also addresses the mental benefits of social contact. Research has shown improvements in memory formation and greater resistance to neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, staying sharper as you age can be accentuated through regular involvement with friends. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321019#Social-motivation-and-brain-power)
This was shown through an earlier study that followed seniors who had maintained close friendships later in life. Scientists at the Cognitive Neurology & Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that adults ages 80 and over who had close friends had the mental agility of much younger people.
There is no doubt that being active physically and socially is a positive asset to our overall health and well-being. We encourage it. However, while summer fun and social outings tend to bring out smiles, the functions don’t always add to the health of smiles.
Since most social get-togethers include food and drinks, as a dentist, there are some risks to your smile I’d like to share. For example, soft drinks can be highly detrimental to teeth. While you may consume them to quench your thirst, most colas are actually dehydrating. This means that they dry out oral tissues by slowing saliva flow.
Soft drinks are also acidic. Add this acid to oral dryness and your mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria growth. This is true for even sugar-free drinks. If you’re consuming alcoholic drinks, including beer or wine, these, too, cause oral dryness.
Most cola is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, tossing your smile a triple whammy – acid, dryness, and sugar. For dark colas, you can add tooth staining to the list – that’s 4 strikes!
Here’s another challenge… These beverages, (including many fruit juices and sports drinks) tend to be consumed over a long period of time. Think about it: rather than gulp down an entire drink with a meal, many people sip canned and bottled drinks slowly.
The hazard of this pace is because of an acid that flows in through saliva, which is activated every time you eat or drink. An initial part of the digestive process, this acid is designed to break down what’s in the mouth for digestion. However, this acid is so potent it can also soften tooth enamel.
It takes an acid attack approximately 20 minutes to subside after consumption. This means that an acid onslaught in the mouth lasts from the first sip and continues for the duration it’s consumed, plus 20 or so minutes after the last sip.
When tooth enamel is softened by this acid, it is more vulnerable to bacterial penetration. Hence, you may be setting your teeth up for a higher risk of cavities. Hopefully, you’ll look at that cooler filled with colas and sports drinks and grab a bottled water instead (or in addition to).
Speaking of acid, let’s consider what we eat as well. Acidic foods can be healthy foods, even though they can create challenges in the mouth. For example, those right-off-the-vine tomatoes are a special summer treat. They are also highly acidic. This is true for other foods, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, dill pickles, catsup, and most salad dressings.
Of course, we would never urge you to pass up on a juicy tomato sandwich or dipping your fries in catsup. However, knowing that you’re adding acid when an acid attack is already underway may prompt you to take a simple step to lessen the potential risks.
Plain, unflavored water is not only very hydrating to the mouth and the body, it can rinse out extra acid that can leave tooth enamel vulnerable. Between colas or wine servings, take a few gulps of water and let it wash over teeth before swallowing. This will dilute the acidic levels.
Water is also your helpmate when eating sweets or carbs. You are probably aware that foods with sugar are especially bad for your smile. Oral bacteria thrives on anything consumed but is super-charged by sugar. Keep in mind that carbohydrates convert to sugar as they break down in the mouth. So, you can add carbs to the list for a water wash after consumption.
In our Shelby Township dental office, we strive to help our patients avoid problems from occurring in the first place. By understanding where the risks lie, you can take proactive measures between visits to prevent things like cavities and gum disease.
An overload of oral bacteria initially reveals itself as plaque, at first. This is “felt” as a sticky film that coats the teeth and gums. If not thoroughly removed each day, it can hardened at the base of teeth. This is known as tartar.
Tartar is a cement-hard colony of bacteria, which feed on tender gum tissues. This can cause tender gums that bleed easily when brushing and more frequent bad breath.
This early stage of gum disease is known as Gingivitis. If not resolved quickly, it can easily progress. Periodontal (gum) disease is an inflammation of the gum tissues that causes bleeding, swelling, persistent bad breath and gum recession. As it worsens, gum disease can enter the advanced stage of periodontitis. In this, infectious oral bacteria attack the area below the gum line, including bone and tissues that support natural teeth.
The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream through tears in diseased gums. The inflammatory nature of this bacteria can trigger a number of serious health problems, including stroke, some cancers, arthritis, and pre-term babies.
Knowing this, I hope you’ll reconsider your oral hygiene regimen at home. This twice-a-day time at the sink is time well spent.
• Drink plenty of plain water throughout the day. It aids in the production of saliva, which is your mouth’s natural rinsing agent.
• Brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time. However, avoid brushing immediately after eating when tooth enamel is still in a softened state. Wait 20 minutes so the acid attack in your mouth subsides. This will keep your enamel from being compromised from abrasive toothbrush bristles and tooth paste.
• Limit snacking. Remember, an acid attack occurs whenever you eat or drink. If you want a sweet treat, have it as dessert immediately following a meal while an acid flow is already taking place in the mouth. This will prolong an existing one rather than trigger a new one.
• Choose your snacks carefully and read labels on sauces, dressings, etc. Sugar is in many foods and some manufacturers are more careful about the amount than others.
We want you to relish your summer and blessed togetherness. And, as your Macomb County source for dentistry, we hope to help you lower your risks with simple, everyday measures.
In addition to your at-home care, be committed to your 6-month check-ups and cleanings so your mouth enjoys a ‘clean slate’ at least twice a year.