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Our Blog

Planning Your Vegetarian Diet with Your Oral Health in Mind

February 24th, 2021

If you’ve been following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you know that there’s much more to living a healthy life than simply avoiding meat products. Making sure your diet includes enough protein, as well as any nutrients that are primarily available in animal products, takes planning, and there’s no one-menu-fits-all solution.

Why? Because there’s no one menu that will suit all vegetarians. Specific vegetarian diets can allow for many different options:

  • Vegan—a plant-based diet which excludes meat, fish, dairy, and egg products
  • Ovo-vegetarian—includes eggs as a dietary option, but no dairy
  • Lacto-vegetarian— includes dairy as a dietary option, but no eggs
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian—a meat-free diet which allows both dairy products and eggs

If you are a pescatarian, who eats fish on occasion, or a flexitarian, who sometimes includes meat in a meal, your menu options are even broader.

So let’s look at the big picture—a healthy vegetarian diet is really more concerned with the foods you do eat for nutrition rather than the foods you don’t. You can create a meal plan rich in all your essential nutrients with a little research, no matter which type of vegetarian diet is your go-to choice.

And while you’re constructing your ideal menu guidelines, don’t forget about your dental nutrition!

In terms of keeping your teeth and gums their healthiest, what important vitamins and minerals are often missing from vegetarian and vegan diets? Let’s look at three of them.

  • Calcium

Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and tooth enamel. Without enough calcium, a weakened jawbone leads to loose, and even lost, teeth. The acids in our food and the acids created by oral bacteria also weaken the minerals in enamel, including calcium. These weak spots can eventually become cavities. A diet rich in calcium not only supports the bones holding our teeth, but can even help repair, or remineralize, enamel which has been weakened by acidic erosion.

For vegetarians who include dairy in their diets, dairy products are a great way to include calcium. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are traditional and rich sources of this mineral.

For vegans, it’s a bit more challenging, but still doable! Non-dairy foods providing calcium include dark green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach), certain types of tofu, and fortified cereals, juices, and non-dairy milks.

  • Vitamin D

Now you’re ready to put that calcium to work by making sure you have enough vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D not only helps keep our bones healthy, it also enables our bodies to absorb calcium. Bonus—it’s been linked to better gum health in several studies.

So how to get more vitamin D? If you eat dairy, most dairy products have been fortified with vitamin D. If eggs are a part of your diet, egg yolks are a great source. Pescatarians can enjoy the benefits of vitamin D from fatty fish such as tuna and salmon.

Because we get most of our vitamin D from sun exposure or foods derived from animals, plant-based foods are not a practical way to obtain the vitamin D you need. But, just as non-vegetarians can get plentiful vitamin D from fortified dairy products, vegans also have options. Try adding cereals, juices, and non-dairy milks fortified with this essential nutrient to your diet, or take a vegan vitamin D supplement.

  • Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy red blood cells, nerve cell development, brain function, and DNA production. (This is why it’s especially important for pregnant and nursing women.) Vitamin B12 can also impact your oral health. A B12 deficiency can cause a swollen, sore, or inflamed tongue, loss of taste, and gum, tongue, and mouth ulcers.

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 is reliably found only in animal foods and nutritional yeasts. If you would prefer an egg-free and dairy-free diet, look to B12 supplements or B12-fortified cereals, plant-based milks, energy bars, and other vegan options. This is a good subject to discuss with your physician, because even supplements and fortified foods might not provide enough B12.

In fact, Dr. Donald Neely can be vital resources when you’re planning your healthiest vegetarian diet. The next time you visit our Hanover, NH office, ask for recommendations for supplements if you’re concerned that diet alone can’t provide for all of your nutrition essentials. Finally, care should be taken to ensure that, even with supplements, you get the proper amount of the vitamins and minerals you need.

As a vegetarian, you are used to the concept of care. Whether it was concern for nutrition, the planet, the animal world, or another reason that drew you to a vegetarian diet, be sure to care for your body as well as your dietary choices. Careful planning can ensure a diet which supports not only your general health, but your oral health, for a lifetime of nourishing—and well-nourished—smiles.

Just What Is Plaque?

February 17th, 2021

From the time you were small, you’ve been warned about the dangers of plaque. Why? Because:

  • It’s an unpleasant film that sticks to your teeth
  • It causes cavities
  • It causes gum disease
  • It can cause extra problems when you wear braces

And really, do we need to know much more than this to motivate us to brush? But if you’re in a curious mood, you might be wondering just how this soft, fuzzy film accomplishes all that damage. Let’s take a closer look at the sticky problem of plaque.

How does plaque form?

We live with hundreds of species of oral bacteria, most of which are harmless, and some of which are actually beneficial. But when our oral ecosystem gets out of balance, problems can occur. For example, without regular and thorough brushing and flossing, we start to build up plaque.

Plaque starts forming within hours of your last brushing. And even though plaque fits the very definition of “seems to appear overnight,” this biofilm is actually a complex microbial community with several different stages of development.

  • It starts with saliva.

Saliva is vital to our oral health, because it keeps us hydrated, washes away food particles, neutralizes acids in the mouth, and provides minerals which keep our enamel strong. Saliva also contains proteins, which help form a healthy, protective film on the tooth surface. This film is called a pellicle.

  • Bacteria attach to the pellicle.

There are species of oral bacteria that are able to attach themselves to the pellicle film within hours of its formation. As they become more firmly attached, they begin to grow and divide to form colonies, and are known as the early colonizers of the plaque biofilm.

  • A complex biofilm forms.

If you’ve skipped brushing for a few days (please don’t!), you’ll notice a fuzzy, sometimes discolored film on your enamel—that’s a thriving plaque community, and it only takes a matter of days to go from invisible to unpleasant.

If you’re not removing plaque regularly, it can harden further and become tartar. And once you have tartar buildup, you’ll need the care of a dental professional to remove it.

  • What happens if we ignore plaque and tartar?

We get cavities and gum disease.

How does plaque cause cavities?

  • The bacteria in plaque, like all organisms, need nutrients.

Our normal oral environment and the food in our everyday diets provide the nutrients plaque needs. And, as we mentioned above, certain types of oral bacteria convert these nutrients into acids. Foods such as carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are most easily converted into acids, which is why we recommend that you enjoy them in moderation.

  • The biofilm promotes acid production.

Within the plaque film, anaerobic bacteria (bacteria which don’t use oxygen) convert sugars and starches into acids. As the plaque film becomes denser, it blocks acid-neutralizing saliva and oxygen from reaching these bacteria close to the tooth’s surface, creating an ideal environment for the bacteria to produce their acid waste products.

  • Acids attack enamel.

The sticky nature of plaque keeps these acids in contact with tooth enamel, where, over time, acids dissolve minerals in enamel, weakening the mineral structure of the tooth.

How does plaque cause gum disease?

  • Bacteria cause inflammation and gingivitis.

The bacteria in plaque irritate the delicate tissue of the gums, which causes an inflammation response which can leave your gums swollen, red, bleeding, or tender. This early form of gum disease is gingivitis. Fortunately, good dental care and careful brushing and flossing can usually prevent and even eliminate gingivitis.

  • Plaque and tartar can lead to periodontitis.

When plaque and tartar build up around and below the gumline, the gums pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets where bacteria collect, leading to infection as well as inflammation. Infections and constant inflammation not only harm gum tissue, they can destroy the bone supporting the teeth. This serious gum condition is periodontitis, and should be treated immediately to avoid further infection and even tooth loss.

How does plaque affect orthodontic patients?

  • Plaque collects around your braces.

Braces provide plenty of spots for plaque to hide from your brush. If you aren’t extremely diligent with your brushing and flossing, plaque collects near brackets, wires, and bands—all those spots that a brush and floss find difficult to reach.

  • Plaque promotes demineralization

The demineralization process we mentioned above can cause white spots on teeth (decalcification), where minerals have dissolved. Sometimes these spots can be treated, and sometimes they are permanent. They can become quite sensitive, and may lead to cavities.

Careful brushing and flossing around your braces will help eliminate the plaque that can cause demineralization near brackets. Ask Dr. Donald Neely about the tools and the brushing and flossing techniques which will give you the best results.

How do we fight plaque?

From the time you were small, you’ve learned how to fight plaque:

  • Brush at least twice a day for two minutes, and be sure to brush all of your tooth surfaces and around the gumline.
  • Floss to remove plaque from between the teeth and near the gumline.
  • See your dentist as recommended for a thorough professional cleaning.

Be proactive. If you have any questions, talk to us at our Hanover, NH office about the best way to keep plaque at bay. We can show you the most effective ways to brush and floss, recommend anti-plaque toothpastes and rinses, even suggest plaque-revealing tablets if you’re missing some trouble spots.

We’ve only brushed up on some plaque basics, because there is a lot more to discover about this complex biofilm. Happily, even with all there is to learn about plaque’s growth and development, it’s reassuring to know that getting rid of it is quite simple—with just a soft-bristled brush, some dental floss, and a few minutes of your time each day, you’re on the way to a healthy, happy, plaque-free smile.

Does Your Valentine Wear Braces?

February 10th, 2021

The Valentine shopping list is traditional and simple: Flowers. Candy. But if your Valentine is in braces this year, suddenly your choices become more complicated. No need to worry! Dr. Donald Neely and our Hanover, NH team have some sweet suggestions that are both braces-friendly and Valentine-approved.

First, let’s look at some options where Cupid’s arrow has missed the mark.

  • Caramels—these sticky treats are difficult to clean from orthodontic work, and sticky, chewy foods can even cause damage to wires and brackets.
  • Chocolate covered nuts—hard foods such as nuts can break or bend wires and brackets.
  • Assorted chocolates—a confectionary minefield! There are bound to be some caramels and nuts in there somewhere, hiding beneath an innocent coat of chocolate, just waiting to ruin your Valentine’s evening.
  • Other candies such as taffy, licorice, hard candy? No, no, and no. Remember, anything sticky, chewy, or hard is on the “Loves Me Not” list.

So, which chocolate treats won’t break hearts or braces?

  • Soft truffles—if it’s not Valentine’s Day without a be-ribboned box of chocolates, choose soft truffles to fill it.
  • Chocolate mousse—the perfect end to a romantic dinner.
  • Chocolate covered strawberries—it’s a special occasion treat that won’t mistreat braces.
  • Rich chocolate cake—always a delightful indulgence, and even better if it’s in the shape of a heart.

If your Valentine is not a chocolate fan, there are other sweet treats that are delicious alternatives.

  • Cheesecake can be topped with (pitted!) cherries to celebrate in holiday-appropriate color.
  • Soft heart-shaped cookies will be even more romantic with decorative icing—add your initials for a personal touch.
  • Select an array of frozen yogurt, ice cream, or gelato in different shades of pink.
  • Macarons also come in a variety of pink and red shades—but make sure this confection is on your Valentine’s braces-friendly list!

Of course, you can celebrate the day without sugary tributes. A single flower, watching your favorite movie together or, best of all, a heartfelt card or letter are all wonderful ways to show you care. But if it’s just not the same holiday without a sweet treat, try some of our suggestions. Your Valentine will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

When It Come to Chewing Gum, Be Choosy!

February 3rd, 2021

Why do you chew gum? Perhaps because it’s a habit that comes with some healthy benefits. Chewing a stick or two reduces the urge to snack between meals. It’s a substitute for behaviors like nail biting that you’d like to change. It might even give you fresher breath after those tuna sandwiches in the cafeteria.

And, as it happens, chewing sugarless gum actually offers a few dental benefits as well! The act of chewing increases saliva production. Saliva washes away food particles, neutralizes acids in the mouth that can damage enamel, and even bathes the teeth in essential minerals that help strengthen weakened enamel. We’re talking about sugar-free gum here, of course, because regular gum will just bathe your teeth in sugar—no one’s idea of a dental benefit!

So why not open that pack and enjoy? Because, despite the many positive reasons you can think of for chewing gum, sometimes gum can have a negative impact on your braces.

  • A Sticky Situation

Keeping your braces clean can be a bit of a challenge. That’s why you have special toothbrushes, flosses, and interproximal brushes to get rid of food particles that stick around after you eat. And, while any food can get caught in your braces, sugared gum, because it is so sticky, can stick to appliances much more easily and much more thoroughly than even sugar-free gum. You might be able to remove gum residue with regular brushing and flossing, but, worst case scenario, you might be looking at gum firmly stuck in the brackets or between the brackets and wires.

  • Gumming Up the Works

Chewing gum can also affect your treatment time if the action of chewing causes your arch wire to bend. When your wire isn’t providing the proper shape or the right amount of tension, your teeth won’t get to where they need to be as quickly and efficiently. No piece of gum is worth discovering at your next appointment that you haven’t made any progress for weeks due to a damaged wire. And since chewing gum can also lead to loose brackets and bands, you might wonder if this sticky habit is ever worth the trouble it can cause.

  • Something to Chew Over

Before you decide, talk to Dr. Donald Neely! Chewing sugarless gum increases saliva production, which can help wash away food particles from your mouth and your braces. As an added benefit, the action of chewing for a few minutes after an appointment has been shown to reduce the discomfort of an adjustment. Because today’s braces are stronger and more durable, and sugarless gum much less likely to stick to them, we can let you know if chewing gum might be acceptable or even desirable depending on your specific treatment plan and your appliance.

Talk to us at your next appointment at our Hanover, NH office about gum chewing, and we’ll give you the very best recommendations for keeping your teeth healthy, your braces clean, your appliance intact, and your treatment plan on track. Even if gum needs to be off the menu for a while, what you’ll get in return—the best and fastest path to your beautiful smile—will be well worth it!

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