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written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

Metal Fillings, Mercury, and More

Metal fillings sound like such an archaic topic, but it really wasn’t that long ago that we stopped using them in dentistry! I would wager that you either had them placed on a tooth at some point, or at least know someone who does. It’s even possible that you still have some metal fillings in your mouth! However, it’s time we talk about what metal fillings are, and why we should reconsider them.

Public concern about silver dental fillings has been present and rising since it was officially announced that metal mercury is toxic to the human body. Although silver fillings are not entirely made of mercury, they do contain mercury in them. Silver fillings are technically a mix of liquid elemental mercury, and powdered alloys that include silver, tin, and copper.  

For many years, the dental association has been saying that metal fillings are safe, until FINALLY, at the end of 2020, the ADA released a statement saying that metal mercury is unsafe for certain populations. My question is, why not for all populations? 

Of course, everyone has different views on holistic medicine, but regardless of where you stand, here are a few things to know about mercury and metal fillings.

Is mercury harmful?

Elemental (metallic) mercury is liquid at room temperature. Exposure to metallic mercury most often occurs when the metallic mercury is spilled or when products that contain metallic mercury break, making mercury exposed to air. When elemental mercury binds with air particles, it turns into methylmercury, which is very toxic to the human body. 

When inhaled as a vapor, metallic mercury is absorbed through the lungs and may cause negative health effects. Symptoms of prolonged and/or acute exposures include:

  • Tremors
  • Emotional changes (mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness)
  • Insomnia
  • Neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching)
  • Headaches
  • Disturbances in sensation
  • Changes in nerve response
  • Poor performance on tests of mental function

So how do we know that these health effects are present and caused by silver fillings.

Let dentists be proof.

We don’t know for sure, of course. The adage correlation does not mean causation is true. However, let dentists be proof. For many years, people have pondered as to why the suicidal rates of dentists are high. We blame it on the stress of our work, but other jobs are stressful too. What do dentists do that other people don’t?

We remove silver fillings. And the symptoms described above can contribute to suicidal thoughts, can it not? A patient of mine once told me of his three high school buddies, all of whom became dentists. One of the dentists took their own life. He recounts seeing his friend’s personality change over time, and how at the funeral, his other two dentist friends were discussing how the mercury in the profession has really altered their friend’s mental health.

 

The Debtist Bogobrush

 

Why were we told silver fillings are alright?

Even when I was in dental school, we were taught that silver fillings are totally safe. I graduated in 2016, which was not that long ago. The ADA has been saying that silver fillings are completely fine to use, despite studies that show otherwise. Their reasoning was as follows: When silver fillings are packed into the tooth as a solid, they are not releasing mercury particles. However, do recall that elemental mercury becomes harmful when products that contain metallic mercury break and when those mercury particles combine with air particles forming methylmercury. Through this logic, the ADA concluded that keeping silver fillings in the mouth was completely fine. In fact, it would be more dangerous to remove silver fillings (since the act of doing so releases the mercury gases that were trapped in the solid form) than it is to keep them in our mouths.

The flaw behind the thinking

The flaw behind this reasoning is that, often times, these silver fillings do break. And people cannot feel them breaking. Most people do not catch fractured silver fillings unless the break is so large that the filling comes out of the tooth. But I can attest to the fact that many of my patients who have silver fillings have marginal breakdown or microfractures around the metal fill. 

Which begs the question, are we inhaling these gases all along?

We are constantly using our teeth to chew. We are occasionally grinding our teeth when stressed. Both mean we are putting pressure on our silver fillings. There has been an argument that these occlusal forces will cause flexing of the silver fillings or the tooth, which will result in microfractures that the eye cannot see. 

What to do?

If you currently have no silver fillings in your mouth, I suggest never placing one. White fillings made of composite resin is quite common these days and would be my material of choice. If a dental office only offers silver fillings, I would really recommend looking for another.

If you have existing silver fillings, you can either wait until it comes time to replace them or replace them right away, depending on where you stand on the holistic medicine spectrum. Eventually, silver fillings will break down, usually beginning at the margins. This may cause bacterial leakage in the future, which will then lead to tooth decay. A silver filling can also crack in the center, due to wear or heavy occlusal forces. Either way, the ideal time to replace them is when these first signs of wear take place. If you go see your dentist regularly, ask them to take an intraoral photograph of your silver filling so you can see for yourself how they are holding up.

When you do replace them, you can choose to see a general dentist or a person who is trained to remove silver fillings and has the equipment to do it in a safe manner. I find that many of my patients seek the latter. Choosing to seek the latter protects not only you, but your dentist too!

 

The Debtist Bogobrush


How are silver fillings removed?

Specially trained dentists will have the facilities necessary to remove the silver filling without exposing themselves or their patients to the toxic gases released during silver filling removal. The dentist will likely wear something that looks like a gas mask. Sometimes, they wear hazmat suits which seems silly, but it is true! There will be a large suction tube placed on the patient’s chest, pointed at the oral cavity. This obnoxiously large tube sucks up the surrounding air, which may contain mercury particles.

 A general dentist can remove silver fillings too using simple protective techniques at their disposal. One such technique is using a rubber dam to prevent inhalation of the mercury. The rubber dam is placed at the mouth opening and provides a layer of protection for the airway. A general dentist can also use a nitrous oxide mask and have the setting at 100% oxygen, with the patient breathing through the nose so that they inhale 100% oxygen instead of inhaling the surrounding air through the mouth. Lastly, high speed suctions must be placed right on top of the tooth, to suck out all the metal bits and pieces being removed from the tooth. 

A word of caution

Not everyone is affected by metal toxins equally. Some people are more sensitive to metal toxicity, requiring only a small dose to experience health side effects. For the hypersensitive, mercury fillings can lead to developmental delays in children and trigger autoimmune diseases in adults. It is important to be cautious if you are of this population. I would 100% recommend removing your silver fillings while seeing a specialist if you are hypersensitive. I would also advise not to remove them all at once. Lastly, it might be beneficial to prepare for your appointment by taking nutritional supplements that will support your immune system during the removal process of your silver fillings. 

If you want to learn more about metal toxicity and health, I recommend this podcast with Dr. Mark Hyman. It’s a good one!

The Debtist Bogobrush

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

Deep Cleanings, Demystified

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

As the world begins to see slivers of hope for opening up again, I would wager that some people are preparing to visit their dental home for a routine exam and cleaning. If quite some time has passed since your last appointment, the need for a deep cleaning may be recommended by your dentist. This is especially true if they diagnose a periodontal condition such as gum disease! In order to avoid skepticism around the need for a deep cleaning (which some may confuse with nothing-more-than-a-glorified- more- expensive-regular-cleaning), I want to take some time to present a few facts about maintaining good gum health and deep cleanings.

What is a deep cleaning?

A deep cleaning is the layman term for what dentists call “scaling and root planing”. How does this differ from a regular cleaning? A regular cleaning removes plaque and calculus above and around the gum line. A deep cleaning reaches to the depth of your gum pocket and removes debris underneath the gums, in the areas where your toothbrush can’t quite reach, and therefore you can’t clean on your own at home. These deep areas are where build-up tends to accumulate.

A deep cleaning is more invasive and may require local anesthetic (or a numbing agent) to achieve. The extent of the deep cleaning depends on the depth of the gum pocket around the tooth (the space between our gums and our teeth), as well as how much build up has accumulated under the gum tissue. Instead of using dental instruments around the crown of the tooth, deep cleanings also instrument around the roots of the teeth. 

The Debtist Bogobrush

Why would I need a deep cleaning?

Often, a deep cleaning is recommended when there is an active gum infection, otherwise known as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs when our body responds to plaque and calculus accumulation through inflammation. We know that toothbrushes can remove plaque and food debris. However, inadequate removal of plaque can lead to the formation of a harder substance known as calculus

Studies have shown that it takes approximately three months for plaque to turn into calculus, which is why 3-month recalls are recommended for those who have deep gum pockets. We also know that our toothbrushes can clean gum pockets up to 3-millimeters deep. But as plaque and calculus accumulate, our gums get inflamed and swollen, which can lead to deeper pockets that perhaps our toothbrush bristles can no longer reach. 

Have you ever heard the dentist call out numbers when evaluating your gums? Those numbers refer to the depth of your gum pockets, measured in millimeters. Smaller numbers are good, because they equate to smaller gum pockets that your toothbrush can easily reach and keep clean. Numbers larger than 3-millimeters are bad, since it leaves an area that you and your toothbrush cannot clean on your own at home. 

It’s like washing a tall drinking glass. Imagine cleaning only the top half of the glass. You wouldn’t want to drink from that glass if the bottom half isn’t clean, would you? If you have deep gum pockets, you are constantly cleaning the top half of your gum pocket, without reaching the bottom half. This means that plaque continues to sit at the unreachable depths of your gum pockets, and eventually, it turns into calculus after three months. And yes, you are swallowing all that bacteria as if you were drinking from a dirty water glass! A deep cleaning at the dental office is required to remove the debris deep in the gum. 

What happens after a dental cleaning?

Sometimes after treatment the gums heal well and the pockets resolve to 3mm or less once inflammation goes away. After all, removing the source of inflammation results in your gums calming down to its regular state. Your body is no longer trying to send a response to the area, so the amount of blood flow to the area decreases, and your gums will return to a healthy pink color. It is possible that your dentist recommends a recall appointment in 3 months to re-evaluate the treated area. If the pockets do not go back down to 3mm, it is likely because they are too deep for you to be able to manage cleaning at home on your own. In this case, the dentist will help to remove the calculus at the deeper pocket levels that your toothbrush may not reach, and the recommended interval is every 3 to 4 months. 

What can failure to do a deep cleaning lead to?

Essentially, periodontal disease is a gum infection. The plaque and calculus in the pocket of your gums contain bad bacteria that thrive in acidic environments. At first, your gums will become inflamed as a normal response to any infection. You may notice puffy or red gums, and bleeding of the gums when you brush or floss is a sign of inflammation. Your gums may start to recede, which I explain to my patients is a signal from your body that it’s trying to protect itself from the infection. Think of it as moving away to keep you safe. 

If you don’t treat the gum infection, the periodontal disease enters Stage II. The more aggressive bacteria erodes bone, resulting in bone loss around the teeth. At this stage, the damage is not reversible, but is still manageable. Lost gum tissue and bone will never grow back (which is why the earlier the treatment, the better the prognosis), and frequent cleanings every 3 -4 months is imperative. This is still considered light periodontal disease. It is not too late!

Moderate periodontal disease is when the infection enters the bloodstream and affects the immune system. This is now a systemic health issue. Periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease and early onset Alzheimer’s. Recent studies show that periodontal disease increases the chances of complications from Covid-19. If the gum infection is left untreated for a long period of time, advanced periodontal disease can result in so much bone loss that the roots of the teeth are exposed leading to cold sensitivity. It is also possible to see further loosening of the teeth, which makes chewing painful. Severe infections can lead to bad breath, and eventual loss of teeth. 

In Conclusion…

All of this to say, routine dental visits are essential for diagnosing early signs of gum infection. If it has been a minute since your last appointment, ask your dentist what your gum pockets look like. Ask them if they notice any gum recession or bone loss in the radiographs. If they recommend a deep cleaning, you now know why! Please don’t ignore it, or assume it means nothing. Patients will usually tell me, “But I don’t feel like I have periodontal disease”, to which I always say, “You also can’t feel heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol.” Not feeling an infection does not mean it is not there. With this knowledge, you can check for the signs yourself!

 Bogobrush The Debtist

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

The Awakening

It was about three years ago when I first embarked on a journey to live a more intentional life. My quest to become a minimalist approaching life in the slow lane led me to craving less of everything. This included creating less waste in my wake. Thus, my inner planet lover was awakened! That’s the thing about slowing down. You start to look around and see what goes unnoticed. And once you’re “woke”, as the kiddos say in the dental office, there is no turning back.


Now, I know that denying plastic straws will not sequester carbon and bringing my reusable bags will not preserve endangered species. We need policy changes and governmental initiatives to do some real damage control. However, I believe our actions bring about some difference that, when compiled with intentional acts of others, inspire the change we wish to see. Therefore, I relentlessly charged head-on with the intention of leading by example and reducing waste in my life. I am by no means perfect, but I aim to try.

The Debtist Bogobrush

 

Plastic Products In the Dental Sphere

Ironically, one of the biggest culprits of plastic waste happened to be the very industry that I work in. Just open any vanity cabinet or bathroom drawer and you will find a slew of consumable items wrapped in plastic. While eschewing unnecessaries such as make-up and a wild array of hair products is a possibility for me, I run into a conundrum when it comes to dental care supplies. They are not exactly products I would recommend foregoing. I will be the first to tell you to nix the lip-liner, but the toothpaste stays. 


In all honesty, it was quite disheartening to come upon the realization that my own line of work is contributing to the particles of plastic taking up space in ocean beds. To be even more transparent, in the beginning, the transition was rough. My wish to find a sustainable toothbrush felt frustrating and futile. I would buy a bamboo toothbrush only to find that it comes delivered in a case. I would buy a refillable floss, only to find the string wrapped in plastic. But it has been three years since, and I’ve discovered quite a lot over that time. Pair that with the innovation of new, forward- thinking dental companies, and I now have high hope that there can be a future made up of pearly whites and blue seas. In fact, this search for dental product alternatives is what first brought me to Bogobrush, many moons ago. Their biodegradable toothbrush options are worth a look!


Eco-Friendly Dental Alternatives

In honor of the upcoming Earth Day on the 22nd of April, I have decided to share a list of alternatives to traditional dental products that you typically find in grocery stores. Most of these companies are online only, but it’s refreshing to start to see a handful of them pop-up in pharmacies and supermarkets nearby.


Mouthwash

I have written about mouthwash before on this blog (read the post here!) and how the best alternative would be to trade in large bottles of blue alcohol for a glass of salt water. I compare the saltwater effects to ocean water’s healing properties for the skin. Simply dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a glass of warm water and swish for ten seconds. The taste may take some acquiring, but I promise you, once you try it, you’ll never want to go back to that strong, spicy, alcoholic stuff. And if you really do prefer that fresh-breath-feel, the company by Humankind has created a dissolvable tablet option that allows for the swishing of your preferred flavored mouth rinse without the plastic packaging.


Toothpaste

The toothpaste industry has developed many tab alternatives to the traditional goo. I have personally tried BITE toothpaste, and I love their product! They are also creating alternatives to fluoride, for those who wish to implement a holistic dental routine into their lives. They have replaced it with nanohydroxyapatite, a lab-made equivalent of a naturally occurring element that strengthens enamel and reduces sensitivity. 


Other companies making tab toothpaste includes by Humankind and GeoOrganics. The latter is being sold on the Package Free website, which is a great resource for zero-waste products in general. At first, toothpaste tabs felt a bit weird, since they required some chewing before brushing. The tabs are a bit chalky with a subtle taste. But after getting used to it, I loved them! In fact, when my BITE tabs ran out and I switched back to the traditional stuff, I noticed how toothpaste felt and tasted exactly like icing on a cake, which is not exactly the best feeling.

 

The Debtist Bogobrush Earth Day


Floss

No, you cannot omit floss from the routine. It is actually my favorite dental product, but also a difficult one to replace. I look for biodegradable silks or non-plastic string coated in a natural wax or oil. The aforementioned companies BITE, by Humankind and Plastic Free Shop contain alternatives, along with a refillable option from Plastic Goods


Toothbrush

This, by far, has the most plastic-free options on the market. Just walk into any grocery store and you are sure to find bamboo alternatives lining the shelves. It is also where my less-waste journey first took root. I discovered Bogobrush, which was the first dental company to give me hope that there could be solutions for my cause. I am not going to list all the alternatives available as a quick Google search will overwhelm you. Rather, I would like to take a few moments to acknowledge a couple of tips regarding zero-waste toothbrushes. Be mindful of the bristles. Sometimes the handle is plastic-free, but the bristles are not. I simply take a pair of pliers to pull out the bristles before recycling the handle. Likewise, be mindful of the toothbrush head size. I have found that some toothbrushes have heads that are too large, which prevent reaching distant surfaces of back molars. Find a toothbrush head that is small enough to lay inside your cheek. And lastly, consider the packaging and opt for paper boxes or 100% recyclable plastics. A bamboo toothbrush is no use to me if it is packaged in non-recyclable plastic. 


Of course, these statements do not come from a place of absolutes and if you still reach for your favorite tube of toothpaste, no worries! We cannot force change to happen, and judgements won’t make the world a better place. But if, occasionally, you opt for the bamboo toothbrush or the refillable floss, just to try for a change of pace, then therein lies the difference. Teensy, tiny shifts that make my heart brim with pride and joy. 

Have a wonderful Earth Day!

 

 The Debtist Bogobrush

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

When I was going to dental school, we had an entire lesson dedicated to how we should talk to children about their upcoming dental visits. The fact is that a child’s perception of dentistry can vastly alter their overall dental health for the remaining years of their life. Most adults who report being dental phobic relate their fears to a previous traumatic experience in their childhood. Some report their anxieties as being passed down from a fearful parent who reiterated the narrative that the dental office is a scary place. And then, of course, we dentists have the media to thank for instilling this fear as well. 

Regardless of the cause, it appears that a child’s perception of their dentist visits greatly shape whether they have positive experiences with dentistry in their adulthood or not. It is for this precise reason that I am going to take the time and share with parents my favorite kid-friendly terms when talking about their upcoming visit. These are the ways in which I explain dental procedures to little ones.

How to Talk to Children About Their Dental Visits

Bogobrush kids

Check Up Exams

I always tell my kid patients that I am going to “count their teeth”. I will ask them how many they think they have prior to asking them to open their mouth. This adds interaction while also creating an opportunity for me to gain their trust. I show them the mirror and ask them if they can see themselves in it. Then I explain that I will use the mirror to see in their mouth and my “tooth counter” will be used to count their teeth. I tell them that I will turn on a bright light to see in the dark cave, and offer them sunglasses to wear if they wish to shade their eyes. Then, I ask them to open wide like an alligator. If they refuse, I will sometimes ask them to say “Ahhh”. I count their teeth out loud and sometimes they will chime in. At the very end, I ask them to close and give me a BIG smile. 

X-Rays

I call x-rays “pictures.” I ask the kids to help me in taking pictures by sitting super still while the camera goes “beep”. To make them feel better, I put the “heavy blanket” on them. I also show them their digital x-rays on the computer screen and thank them for their help. 

Cleanings

For their cleanings, I tell them that we are going to clean off any left-over food. If they have a lot of plaque, I show them so they know that brushing needs improvement. I call the polishing paste “toothpaste” and the polisher an “electric toothbrush”. This is a great opportunity to ask them if they have an electric toothbrush at home. I also call fluoride treatment tooth vitamins, and tell them not to eat or drink for thirty minutes so that they avoid washing off the vitamins – otherwise their teeth can’t get as strong! 

Numbing

I call the anesthetic “sleepy juice.” I explain to kids that we need to put their teeth to sleep so that we can clean out the “sugar bugs” comfortably. I first put some “jelly” which is a topical gel that helps them with the shot. Placing the jelly first gives me an opportunity to gauge their anxiety level. If they wince when I show them the Q-tip with the gel, then I already let mom know that they can hold the kid’s hand to make sure they are comfortable and safe. When I go in for the numbing, I avoid showing them the needle. I also wiggle their lip while asking them to wiggle their toes, as a form of distraction. Other things that help are having the parents ask them questions about their day, having the television on if there is one, and having the assistant spray water continually. I tell the child that their lip will feel very sleepy soon. “It will start to feel heavy in the same way that we feel heavy when we are tired.” Then I have them bite down on a cotton gauze which I call a “pillow” to let the teeth fall asleep for ten minutes before starting any work on them. Depending on how well they do with this part of the appointment, I give the parents at this time a heads up on what to expect for the next few steps. 

Fillings

I always say we will give the teeth a shower, using the term “water sprayer” whenever I refer to the drill. The etchant, bonding agent, and composite filling are described as shampoo, conditioner, and soap respectively, as I apply them one step at a time. I say that the “magic light” helps me to put the filling in, and tell them that we have to “wash the soap away” when in reality, I am polishing the filling at the very end. 

Extractions

I tell children that I will help them wiggle their tooth. I ask if they have ever wiggled their tooth before at home, and explain to them that I will do the exact same thing. Instead of focusing on what is going to happen (since extractions are mostly scary for children), I focus on the reward after, such as the visit from a tooth fairy, or the fact that the tooth will no longer bother them! This is the hardest thing for parents to explain, but what is important to remember is to avoid (at all costs!) the list of words we shall never say to children when describing their dental visit.

Words to Never Say

There are words that we should avoid saying to prevent placing negative connotations in children’s minds. These include the words “needle”, “shot” and “hurt.” Instead of saying “hurt”, I always say “feel funny” or “feel weird”. Most kids cannot identify the exact feelings associated with dental treatment, but prepping them beforehand with terms such as “weird” or “funny” will alert them to an interesting sensation that may not be comfortable but is NOT pain. (In fact, pain is a perceived feeling more than an actual feeling, and we can reduce our experience of pain by changing the way we perceive what we are experiencing. This has been proven many times. Ask the monks!)

Alternative Phrases to Common Dental Terms

 Below, I include a list of words and phrases to avoid, along with an alternative phrase that I use.

Words to Avoid

Alternative Phrases

Needle or Shot

Sleepy juice, sleepy medicine

Pain

Feel Weird or Feel Funny

Numbing gel

Jelly (It’s flavored!)

Drill

Water Sprayer, Shower Head

Drill on teeth

Wash the sugar bugs

Pull, yank, or extract a tooth

Wiggle a tooth out

Decay, Cavity

Sugar Bug

Suction

Mr. Thirsty

Mouth prop

Tooth pillow

Water/Air Sprayer

Squirt Gun

Dental explorer 

Tooth Counter

Nitrous Oxide

Funny Mask, Happy Air

Dental Chair

Chair Ride (like Disneyland!)

Flouride 

Tooth Vitamins

Xrays

Tooth Pictures

Lead Shield

Heavy Blanket


A Few Closing Thoughts

The point of changing the language we use around children is not to fool children. In fact, fooling children is the easiest way to traumatize them. When a child loses their trust with their dentist, that trust could remain lost forever. It becomes harder to win them back, and they may develop a habit of avoiding the dental office altogether. 

This is why I always prep the child and parent, by telling them in these friendly terms what is going to happen next. If they ask me an outright question, such as “Is this going to be a shot?”, I tell them the truth. “Yes, but this isn’t like the shots you’ve had before. This is going to be different because you have jelly which will help and we will wiggle your cheek so you won’t feel it very much.” Sometimes, I demonstrate what they will feel on their hand, by giving them a gentle pinch. I show them the water spray, and practice spraying water in their mouth before administering the shot. 

Lastly, I never force children to do what they don’t want to do. I think parents can be helpful in establishing a sense of authority so that we can try our best, but I do not utilize papoose boards and do not support holding kids down. I find that most of the time, if we are not “successful” in getting the treatment done that day, we can still find success in other ways if we redefine what success looks like. Simply spending the entire one-hour appointment talking and playing with the child gets you one step closer for their next appointment, a few weeks down the road. The most important thing is to create a dental home for children, one in which they feel safe and supported enough to return to. Language can help with that, but at the end of the day, actions will always speak louder than words.

 The Debtist Bogobrush

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

We have all heard the dental motto: “Sweets are bad for your teeth.” It has been preached from dental chairs, parental podiums, even billboard signs and children’s cartoons. But has anyone ever mentioned that not all sweets are the same? Which means, some sweets are better for your teeth than others. This dentist baker is here to share a few facts about sugary signs of love and how we may all enjoy delectable sweets on Valentine’s Day.

What Causes Tooth Decay?

Before we get into it, let us talk about how teeth decay. The bacteria that cause tooth-decay emit acids that break down enamel and dentin. A cavity occurs when the mouth becomes an acidic environment. The body is constantly trying to replenish tooth enamel and takes in calcium in order to do so. In fact, one of the benefits of fluoride is that it increases the uptake of calcium ions which are considered basic in nature. However, when there is an imbalance, bacteria turn the mouth into a more acidic environment, thus causing teeth to break down. 

Why Do Sweets Get a Bad Rap?

So why do sweets get such a bad rap? Although bacteria is the culprit, the presence of sweets help the decay process along. The bacteria feed on simple sugars and carbohydrates and thrive when there are a lot of it. This increasing the production of acidic by-product. The biggest problem with sweets is their tendency to be sticky (think chewy gummies, stretchy taffy, and old-fashioned bubble gum). Sticky sweets remain present for a long time, which then increases their exposure to the decay-causing bacteria. 

The Debtist Valentine’s Day

Saliva Saves The Day

One of the protective factors for your teeth is saliva. Saliva acts as a natural mouth rinse that flows in your oral cavity while removing food particles. It also breaks down food into smaller components which is removed from your oral cavity when you swallow. People who have low salivary flow (commonly caused by medication) have an increased risk for tooth decay. However, as protective as saliva is, it cannot remove sticky sweets easily, and need help from the good old toothbrush and floss for the stickier stuff. I mean, sometimes even the toothbrush and floss have difficulty. Have you ever gotten a Red Vine stuck in your teeth?

Not All Sweets Are Created Equal

Here is where the useful information comes in. Not all sweets are created equal because not all sweets are equally sticky! In fact, sweets that melt easily in saliva, such as chocolate, have low chances of causing tooth decay. More importantly, studies have shown that the amount of sweets may not be as important as the amount of time it is left in contact with teeth. 

One study asked two groups to drink a whole can of soda. One group was asked to drink it in one sitting, finishing the can right away. The second group was asked to take sips of the soda occasionally over a long period of time. Those who were in the second group had a higher prevalence of tooth decay. Why? Because the first group of people who drank the soda right away had their saliva break down the sticky sugary substance and rinse out the mouth, whereas the second group of people were constantly re-filming their teeth with sticky goodness, thereby negating the protective factors of saliva! It was the amount of time the teeth were in contact with the sweets that caused higher chances of tooth decay.

By this logic, the stickier the treat, the worse it is for our teeth. In fact, the bane of the pediatric dental community is none other than the orange-colored favorite snack: Cheetos! The stickiness of this carbohydrate-rich snack makes it more likely to cause cavities than most other sweets. Knowing this, it is important to prioritize eating sweets that are non-sticky or those that are easily dissolved by saliva. 

This is amazing news for all chocolate lovers because it means they can still enjoy Valentine’s Day! In fact, dark chocolate is the number one recommended sweet option according to most dentists. I, myself, eat a piece of dark chocolate after every meal – because I love sweets, too! Another alternative is candy bars with plenty of nuts. The nuts break up the stickiness while its rough texture helps to scrape biofilm from teeth. KIND bars are a good option to reach for. Lastly, even soft desserts such as cake and crème brulee are better than lollipops and sour-suckers, especially if you drink water afterwards.

The Debtist Valentine’s Day Sweets

Ways to Enjoy Sweets on Cupid’s Day

This isn’t to say that you can never eat your favorite gummy candy again. However, use this knowledge to fight off cavities! Here are some tips that still allow other sweet lovers like me to enjoy their favorite snacks on special occasions.

  • Keep the mindset – Icky Sticky. Choose the least sticky treat if possible. When presented with chocolate and candy, choose chocolate.
  • Get it done, and quickly! Eat sweets and snacks in one sitting and right away, instead of savoring it over a long period of time.
  • In general, homemade sweets are better than store-bought sweets, so pull out that apron and bake your heart away. 
  • After eating sweets, brush, and floss to prevent feeding the bad bacteria!
  • Use fluoride toothpaste since fluoride increases the uptake of calcium ions. This helps fight acidic oral cavities and helps re-mineralize enamel – the outer protective layer of teeth.
  • If you have low salivary flow, increase your saliva by chewing sugar-free gum and avoiding mouthwashes that contain alcohol. Listerine, for example, contains alcohol. My favorite mouthwash alternatives are ACT and BIOTENE. 
  • Drink water right after eating. This helps rinse out the mouth and wash away left-over foods, as well as break down sticky substances. 

So there you have it, straight from me! Valentine’s Day is saved, and we can continue to show love in the form of sweets, so long as we prioritize the right ones. 

XOXO

Your dentist baker.

The Debtist

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

If you told me that you missed your routine dental check-up and cleaning in 2020, I’ll say you wouldn’t be the first. Let us face it. 2020 brought on a slew of unexpected lemons thrown our way and now we are all here, at the beginning of a new year, sitting around with a whole lot of lemonade.  If anything, we did good people! I would hardly expect dental care to have been at the top of everyone’s to-do list. We were all trying to maintain good health in other, more important ways (myself included).

A Look Ahead

However, it is now 2021 (Happy New Year!) and the perfect time to get in the full swing of things. If you are writing down a list of New Year’s Resolutions in hopes that this year becomes our best one yet, I would like to urge you to place dental care and oral health at the top of the list.

Back in March, a majority of dental offices closed their doors for a period of time. Dentists across the globe were assessing the situation, calculating risks, and racking our brains for additional precautions needed to deliver oral health care in a safe manner. We re-opened tentatively for emergency treatment until resuming preventative appointments in the summer season. Even after the doors re-opened fully, people were hesitant to leave the safety of their homes, which is completely understandable. Unfortunately, this avoidance caused an increase in dental treatment for many of my patients. This is costly in time and money, both valuable commodities after such a hectic year. 

I know that seeing the dentist isn’t a favorite activity but seeking preventative care will definitely set one up for a successful year. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get. 

Bogobrush x The Debtist

Tips to get a head start on your oral health in 2021

  • Make a resolution to floss daily. I know that flossing isn’t the most fun activity in the world (except for dental dorks like me), but doing so will prevent cavities from starting in between your teeth. Even if you brush twice a day and use mouthwash, there are certain areas that can only be cleaned with floss. 
  • Be mindful of what you eat. This resolution is popular and shows up on resolution lists in many different ways. While eating less carbs and sugar is good for the body as a whole, it also affects oral health. Carbohydrates and simple sugars are the exact ingredients that cavity-causing bacteria love to eat. Reducing their intake will make a huge difference in protecting enamel, the outer layer of all teeth.
  • Drink more water each day. People are always shocked when I tell them that saliva has protective factors for the oral cavity. The winter season is typically associated with dryness and dehydration. Drinking plenty of water will help produce more saliva, as well as rinse out the oral cavity frequently.
  • Reduce stress both at work and at home. The prevalence of teeth grinding has increased significantly in recent years due to our stressful lifestyles. I recommend a night guard to almost all of my patients having frequently observed moderate wear or occasionally, a fractured tooth. To help reduce stress during the day, schedule down-time and take plenty of breaks. I personally enjoy using meditation apps such as Tide or Headspace, as well as practice yoga as a form of exercise. 
  • Quit chewing or smoking tobacco. If you’ve been thinking of quitting for a while, this would be a great year to start! Not only is it bad for the oral cavity, it also is detrimental to your lungs, an organ to protect this time of year.
  • Lastly, stay up to date with routine check-ups and cleanings. Don’t give a tiny cavity the chance to grow into a large gaping hole. Diagnosing dental decay early on could avoid time-consuming and more expensive dental treatment. Plus, routine cleanings can keep gum disease away, thus protecting your gum tissues and circumventing the need for deep cleanings. I know that many people have some reservations about going into the dental office during this time, but it is very important to do. For peace of mind, you can call ahead to see what your dentist is doing to make your visit as safe as possible.

The bottom line

Now I know I just listed a lot of ideas and I don’t want to overwhelm you so early in the year. However, implementing at least a few of these tips would definitely give one a good head start. Prioritizing health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Don’t let oral health be at the tail end of it!

 

 

The Debtist

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

Have you registered to vote?

October 08, 2020

A Minimalist Mouthwash

August 27, 2019

written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

When it comes to mouthwashes, I am unabashedly not a big fan. One unfortunate thing about mouthwashes is that they are packaged in plastic bottles which makes any zero-plastic-user cringe at the sight. Secondly, some mouthwashes contain more than 20% alcohol. Think of the strong smell that you experience when you open a bottle of Listerine. How about the burning sensation you feel when you swish the solution around, waiting for the moment that you could spit it right back out? That’s the alcohol’s doing. Sometimes, the alcohol can be a bit strong for the gums, and I would typically suggest to my patients to choose mouthwashes that are labeled “alcohol-free” for a gentler rinse. Lastly, the health benefits of mouthwash are disputed in the dental community. Some claim that people who rinse with mouthwash more than three times a day increase their chances of oral cancer. Some say it slightly elevates blood pressure. While I am not sure whether I completely believe those two claims, when it comes to protecting your teeth from cavities, many dental professionals agree that mouthwash doesn’t come close to the effectiveness of a toothbrush or floss. While it gives people that false sense of confidence in their oral health, mouthwashes arguably only temporarily improve one’s breath. And they’re expensive! As a frugalist, a recurring cost for a mouth rinse with limited pros does not really jive with me. In general, I do not find that the pros of using mouthwash outweighs the cons.

I treat people in a low-income community, mostly, and when they come to me looking for mouthwash advice, I give them a recipe for a minimalist one. No surprise here. What IS a surprise is when I tell them that I do not buy mouthwash myself, and that my rinse of choice is nothing more than warm salt water, twice a day, swished for thirty seconds to a minute. Salt water rinses are great especially for the gums. It is my first line of defense whenever I see gum inflammation. I liken it to how salt water at the beach can heal the skin. So what makes it so great?

HEALTH BENEFITS OF A SALT WATER RINSE

  • It works by increasing the pH balance of your mouth. Bacteria likes to multiply in acidic environments, so by making the oral cavity more alkaline, we are making it more difficult for the bacteria to survive. This includes the bacteria that make our breaths smell bad in the first place!
  • It is not irritating to mucous membranes, because it has a similar concentration of salts and minerals as our bodies do. 
  • It is affordable and accessible to ANYONE. 
  • It’s simple to make (see recipe below).
  • It is more widely embraced, especially when treating people who prefer holistic, natural methods. Not everyone wants a prescription for an anti-microbial rinse when they come to you looking for advice against puffy gums. Some are just searching for better oral hygiene practices, and maybe a rinse recommendation.

The Debtist saltwater rinse

FAQs

People sometimes ask, “Doesn’t the salt abrade the teeth?” Well, this is why warm water is important! Once salt is added to warm water, it dissolves immediately and we don’t have to worry about the grittiness of it. Our enamel stays safe.

Others ask, “But how does it improve my breath?” It improves by reducing the bacteria that causes bad breath in the first place. Some patients complain that they don’t feel as if they’re breath is “as fresh” as when they use Listerine. I think that’s what makes people return to these mouthwash companies. But “fresh smelling breath” does not necessarily equate to a healthy mouth. It’s an illusion. When I ask people what fresh breath smells like, they say “minty”. When I ask them what fresh breath feels like, they say “cool” or “cold”. Neither of these are natural. They are socially taught. They are also very strong habit-forming experiences. Mouthwash companies want you to keep returning to their product. So they essentially make a product that, when it is missing from your life, is blatantly obviously missing. Getting used to being without store-bought mouthwash takes time but once we’ve gotten that expectation of cool minty freshness out of our minds, it becomes a simple matter of moving our point of reference. I have had people return and say that once they’ve gotten used to warm salt water rinses, they now view Listerine as “excessively strong and pungent”. Which it is. I remember the first time I ever tried mouthwash. I had that burning tingling sensation, and watering eyes. I was probably in my late teens. Over time, I’ve gotten immune to that feeling, expecting it even. It makes people think that that feeling signifies cleanliness. When in reality, it does not. 

The last question I regularly get is, “Do I need to rinse my mouth at all?” If you were using store-bought mouthwash, I would say it’s debatable, because I am not sure of its efficacy. But I do recommend salt water rinses twice a day for EVERYONE, to keep up with your gum health. Brushing and flossing will ultimately, still, be the best for your teeth.

A MINIMALIST MOUTH RINSE

Dissolve 1 tsp. of salt in 8 ounces of warm salt water. Swish for 30 seconds, twice a day, morning and night. Voila! 

OTC MOUTHWASH

There are two types of mouthwashes, generally speaking, which can be bought over the counter: Cosmetic and Therapeutic. If you wish to buy a therapeutic mouthwash, check the ADA’s site for a list of mouthwashes that have been granted an ADA seal. Look for this seal when perusing your store’s shelves. If you wish, you may seek out mouthwashes with the following ingredients:

  • Cetylpyridinium Chloride;
  • Chlorhexidine;
  • Essential oils;
  • Fluoride;
  • Peroxide.

These ingredients are found in therapeutic mouthwashes. Additionally, I would opt for mouthwashes that contain no alcohol. It is important to note that mouthwash is not recommended for children under 6 years of age. 

So there you have it. My holistic, minimalist, zero-plastic, frugal, professional two-cents on mouthwash.

The Debtist

we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

  1. RESEARCH BLOGS OR INFLUENCERS FOR TIPS ON SUSTAINABLE LIVING.

Choose what feels good for the “you” you are today, and resist the temptation to judge other options. With grains of salt, here are a few of the folks I follow on IG:

    • @theminimalists (podcast + blog)
    • @thesustainablefashionforum
    • @consciouschatter (podcast)
    • @studyhall.earth (UN Sustainability Study Hall)
    • @zerowastehome (author)
    • @greendreamerpodcast (hosted by @KameaChayne)

     

    1. TAKE INVENTORY OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING TODAY AND CHOOSE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT!

    When you tell yourself you’re not doing enough, you’re programming yourself into negativity. Instead, recognize the abundance of your sustainability, today, and put that goodness into the world.

     

    1. CHOOSE 1-3 ACTIONS TO ADD TO YOUR EXISTING SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS.

    Look at your desired efforts and identify the items that nag you to tip them over the edge. Observe the barriers that prevent you from acting on those items, then name 1-3 things you can do to practice removing those barriers. It sounds like goal-setting because it is. Put a date on it, commit to practicing it consistently for 5 days and see how you feel! You can always choose something else if that doesn’t feel aligned.

     

    1. PRACTICE A SUSTAINABLE MINDSET.

    Your mindset creates your reality, and that’s not just a catchy phrase. It’s philosophy (Kacee talked about this,) and it’s quantum physics, (one principle is called the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.) Create a habit of looking at the world and yourself as sustainable and balanced.

    • Look at the world through a lens of a Sustainability Model. The three prong Venn Diagram is a great start - the balance of Eco, Social, and Economic interests. The 8 Pillar Approach that I mentioned is good, too. (If you’re interested, tell me!) Anything that asks you to consider perspectives outside your immediate lens will help you cultivate a sustainable mindset.
    • Look inside yourself. You are the universe and anything you do to yourself, you’re doing to the planet, too. Use meditation to relate to the elements. (I have a guide for this. LMK.) See yourself in everything and use your empathy to identify your relationship to Sustainability.

     

    1. UNDERSTAND HOW THE ECONOMY RELATES TO SUSTAINABILITY.

    Our economy is simply the system we use to trade environmental and human resources. When the “value” of resources is misaligned with reality, the outcome of the trade is imbalanced.

     

    1. PURCHASE CARBON OFFSETS FOR YOUR BEHAVIORS.

    This will help you more accurately account for the resources your life is consuming. Start small. Choose one activity to offset - perhaps driving your car or your electricity usage. Commit to paying your offsets for 3-6 months and evaluate. Maybe you add another category of your lifestyle to offset. Two examples of offset organizations are Terrapass and Cool Effect.

     

    1. REGULARLY CALL YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES.

    It could be weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, whatever - but, regular communication creates the most impact. Tell them, “we need to have economic tools that better account for our environmental and social externalities.” Offer some examples: Carbon Tax, Emission Standards, Renewable Energy Standards, Healthcare Affordability Solutions, Regulations on Chemicals used in Food Industry. There are countless ways the government can advocate for Sustainability. YOUR VOICE MATTERS.

     

    1. CHOOSE HUMAN POWER OVER MOTOR POWER WHEN YOU CAN.

    For example, ride a pedal bike or walk instead of drive a car or electric scooter (those scooters take more power than your bike, y’all. Then again, how much energy does it take to ride your bike…food, water, etc? Oh the spiral. lol. )

     

    1. BE AWARE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH WITH SUSTAINABILITY.

    Empathy is the reason you’re able to feel for other animals and people, and is how you recognize yourselves as part of something greater than your individuality. However, overactive empathy strips you of your power and sends you into fear and guilt. Remember that fear and guilt are not emotions of action. When this happens, center yourself on your Truth and take inspired, positive action to lift yourself into a more balanced state of mind.

     

    1. ALWAYS PRACTICE KINDNESS TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS.

    Non-judgment is contagious through every single thing you do in life. When you stop judging other people, or yourself, for their decisions about sustainability, and instead you trust everyone is doing the best they can with where they’re at, you open energy to do more good.

     

    1. PRODUCT CHOICES: TIPS TO REMEMBER
    • Fewer materials in a product = Easier to recycle
    • The entire Life Cycle of a product is what matters: Creation - Sourcing - Manufacturing - Utility/Function Value - End of Life.

     

    1. SUSTAINABILITY IS MORE THAN ECO, (OR ANY SINGLE FACTOR,) IT’S A CYCLE OF ENERGY.

    Eventually, all things will complete a life cycle of balance, the question becomes about the distance that cycle must cover. Perhaps the sustainability we’re after is a balance that minimizes harm and increases efficiency, creating a tighter cycle of energy. The vastness of Sustainability is often condensed into Eco, alone, because it’s easier for our minds to wrap around a more narrow factor. The value of our eco-system is great, but when it comes to Sustainability, it’s an incomplete view.

     

    1. YOU’RE A PIECE OF THE SOLUTION, BUT ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE TO SOLVE IT ALL.

    Your job is to hold faith that your curiosity for sustainability blended with your Truth is what is “right,” and that someone else’s Truth is part of the solution, too. Practice an open mind so you’re ready to support other people’s Truth roles and are able to accept support for your Truth, too.

     

    1. THE ENTIRE SYSTEM MUST CHANGE.

    Regardless of how much sustainable living you do, there will always be someone who won’t consciously choose the value of sustainability because it goes against what they fundamentally believe. Mass change is realized as conventional products and services are priced higher than those that honor sustainability, (i.e. a more accurate valuation of resources.) This happens through the following:

    • Supply and Demand. Reminder: Don’t demand perfection. Demand awareness and consciousness. Over time, this does tip the scale.
      • Example: With Bogobrush, the production cost of our first product in 2015 was more that 10x the cost of a conventional manual toothbrush. With demand, we’ve reduced our costs by more than 65%. Now, we can market to larger stores, reach more people, and create a ripple effect through the supply chain making this technology more accessible to the world. It’s not perfect, it’s progress.
    • Political Effort. See #7 above. :)
    • Economic Theories - Philosophers and Economists are dreaming up entirely new ways of valuing the world. My favorite model, so far, is called Thermoeconomics, where “value” is literally based on the amount of energy in a good or service.

     

    This is taken from CEO Heather's blog after hosting Sustainability & Sadhana, part of Citizen Yoga’s Open Door Series. Check out the full article here: https://www.thisisheather.me/on-all-the-things/2019/6/23/16-things-to-do-or-consider-after-sustainability-amp-sadhana

    Choosing Chocolate

    June 21, 2019

    written by samantha tillapaugh from the debtist

    Chocolate is my dessert of choice. Actually, it’s my snack of choice, and when it comes to foods good for our teeth, sometimes I think that choosing chocolate could be good advice. It is true that I will take every opportune moment to make chocolate-eating okay, but there is logical reasoning to backup my stance. And we’ve got our salivary glands to thank for that.

    Saliva is Our Superhero

    There are multiple protective factors for our teeth, one of which is the saliva that we produce. The hallmark of dental cavities is the demineralization of our teeth initiated by acidogenic plaque flora. In human speak, this means that bacteria living on our teeth convert left-over foods (in the form of plaque) into acidic by-products, which then causes our teeth to rot. Combating this process is our saliva.

    Saliva helps prevent cavity formation in three epic ways. First, it cleanses the mouth via its salivary flow, breaking down plaque and washing it away from our teeth. Second, it provides a buffering system by depositing calcium which is good for our teeth, especially when it recognizes an increase in acidity by a lowering of pH levels. Lastly, it has been shown to oppose demineralization by supplying minerals, specifically calcium. In other words, saliva is our superhero.

    The Debtist

    So why does this make choosing chocolate good advice?

    Why Chocolate Is Better Than Other Snacks

    Do you remember that M&M selling point, “melt in your mouth, not in your hand”? That’s exactly the selling point I’m going to pitch here. Chocolate has an ability to be broken down by your saliva that most foods on the grocery shelves do not. If you stick a piece of chocolate on your tongue, it dissolves. If a stray piece of chocolate gets stuck on your tooth, it will also dissolve. However, if you eat a piece of candy, the stickiness makes it very difficult for saliva to wash it away from your tooth. Unfortunately, when saliva and a piece of Jolly Rancher battle it out, no matter how many waves of saliva tries to pry that stubborn candy off your tooth, the Jolly Rancher will win every time. I suppose this is part of the reason why my sister’s candy-loving self had cavities, when my chocolate-loving self had none.

    However, it isn’t just candies that chocolate beats. Some of the worst kid snacks come in the form of non-sweets as well. As much as I love Cheetos, the cheesy goodness leaves a grimey mark, and it is actually the number one snack that dentists warn against. All you have to do is look at a child’s fingers, or have them smile at you afterwards, and you’ll see why. In fact, all chips covered in some sort of flavor (such as barbecue, sour cream and onion, and yes, Hawaiian!) can leave a residue.

    Likewise, juices, which so many parents love, also contain heavy amounts of sugar, especially when store-bought. Unfortunately, juices stick to teeth despite being a liquid, and can be difficult to remove. And don’t get me started on soda. Worse than being sticky, those beverages are actually acidic, which we already know is a factor in the beginnings of cavity formation. Well-meaning parents have turned to dried fruits, but those too have their down-sides. Have you ever gotten a dried mango or a dried date stuck in between your teeth? If you’ve experienced this, then you know that the fibrous being likes to be retentive, and no matter how hard you try to maneuver your tongue and cheek to dislodge said piece, efforts end up being either futile or extremely excessive. Lastly, any snack that stains kid’s teeth and tongues, even momentarily, I would warn against. If it sticks enough to stain, then it’s sticky enough to stay.

    The Tooth (and Health) Benefits of Chocolate

    But back to chocolate. I am not saying that all chocolate is good, or that chocolate all the time should be one’s daily practice (I wish!). But I am saying that compared to the many things we reach for on the shelf, chocolate falls under that category of “not so bad”. It is a basic snack (in terms of pH) that does not contribute to the acidic environment detrimental to our teeth. It is easily broken down by saliva and just as easily washed away. And chocolates are contributors of calcium, which is essential in opposing the demineralization process. Recent research posits that chocolate actually is a superfood for our teeth because it contains a chemical called CBH, which is similar to caffeine. CBH has been shown to be more effective than fluoride in strengthening enamel in animal tests, and there is hope to add this chocolate superpower into mouthwashes and toothpastes for humans in the future. So for those who are against fluoride treatments, perhaps the answer to the solution lies in chocolate! Chocolate also contains antioxidants that have been argued to protect your teeth, the list of which includes tannins and polyphenols which supposedly prevent the sticking of substances to your teeth and neutralize the bacteria that reduces bad breath. As if this wasn’t enough, have I mentioned that chocolate has been shown to improve not only mood elevation, but also blood flow? Not that you needed the extra ammo.

    The Debtist

    Important Caveats and Tips on Chocolate Eating

    If you do reach for chocolate bars on the shelf, here are some very important caveats and tips to consider.

    • Not all chocolates are created equal. When I say that chocolate is healthy, I am talking about chocolate that’s as close to the cacao bean as possible. The best thing to do would be to chew on cacao nibs, but I think that most people would not find that palatable. The second best would be raw chocolate which is less processed. When in doubt, reach for simple dark chocolate bars with 70% cacao or more, with less than 6-8 grams of sugar per serving. Obviously, the order of chocolate healthiness goes from dark chocolate to milk chocolate to white chocolate, so as we go down the tier, the sugar content increases and the benefits of chocolate decreases. And please do not choose anything other than simple chocolate bars or chips or nibs. As we’ve previously discussed, any additives to chocolate bars in the forms of nougat, dried fruit, and - the absolute worst – caramel (!) may make it taste better, but reverses everything I’ve said in this piece, thus turning chocolate from your best friend into your worst enemy.
    • Eating a whole bar of chocolate in one sitting is better than eating a piece every hour. A whole bar in one sitting?! I know what you’re thinking. “She’s crazy!”. But it’s the truth. Our saliva works diligently to wash away excess foods. But it doesn’t help if you are constantly re-dirtying the teeth every hour after the saliva has already done its cleaning up after you. Eating a piece every hour is like putting the teeth at a perpetual state of exposure to chocolate. I’d rather you expose it once and get it over with. Plus, the amount of exposure to chocolate when you eat a bar in one sitting is actually LESS than when you eat it over the course of a few hours. Why? Because our teeth has a limited amount of tooth surface. When you’ve covered the teeth with chocolate, eating more chocolate will not cause more of it to stick. The tooth is already covered! The excess chocolate just goes down the pipe. But if you wait one hour, your saliva has freed up tooth structure for more chocolate binding. As the saying goes… “work smarter, not harder”.
    • Brushing your teeth afterwards is still recommended. If you don’t have access to a toothbrush, swishing with water or drinking some water would be very helpful in the dissolving process. This is especially true the farther you go down the chocolate spectrum.
    • Chew sugar-free xylitol gum afterwards. Xylitol gum has its benefits, but chewing gum (or anything!) in general is beneficial because it stimulates salivary flow. The minute we start chewing, we send our body a signal to increase saliva. So chewing sugar-free gum afterwards helps with the dissolving of any left-over chocolates, if you were at all worried.

    So the catch-all phrase of “sweets are bad” isn’t entirely true after all. If anything, I would posit that sticky foods are bad, and sticky sweets are worse. But chocolates … chocolates make my world go round.

    The Debtist

    we’ve partnered with samantha tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in southern california, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. when she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as thedebtist. aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

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