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Dental Health in Ancient Cultures

WE TEND TO ASSUME that people from earlier eras (especially the pre-industrial ones) must have had terrible dental health, but that’s not always true. While we get to benefit from modern dental care, braces, and root canal therapy here in the 21st century, the ancient Native Americans did a pretty good job of taking care of their teeth. So did people in ancient China!

Diet and Ancient American Dental Health

Perhaps the biggest thing ancient Native Americans had working in their teeth’s favor was their diet. The early Native American diet consisted of corn (maize), beans, squash, fish, game, and plenty of fresh fruit and nuts. That kind of high-fiber diet is great for dental health because the harmful bacteria in our mouths need sugar and starch to multiply. High-fiber foods actually help to scrub our teeth clean as we eat them!

Ancient Skulls With Periodontitis

Tooth decay and gum disease might have been uncommon for the early Native Americans, but they weren’t nonexistent. If you ever go check out the Manitou Cliff Dwellings by Colorado Springs, you can see the holes left by advanced gum disease in the jaw bones of some of the replica skulls.

Before the Toothbrush

Aside from diet, early Native Americans used chewsticks and chewed fresh herbs to keep their teeth clean and healthy. Chewsticks are twigs with one frayed end to chew and clean the teeth and one pointy end to use as a toothpick, and herbs like mint, cucacua, and sage were great for fresh breath.

Meanwhile, in China, some people had access to toothbrushes more like what we’re used to, made of animal bone and hair, and they made an early form of toothpaste by boiling honey locust fruit, ginger, foxglove, lotus leaves, and other herbs. The mixture helped reduce gum inflammation, ease toothaches, and remove stains. Having healthy teeth and fresh breath were important qualities — if a little harder to maintain than they are now.

Early Dental Extractions in Ancient China

The ancient Chinese were performing dental extractions and stabilizing teeth with wires as far back as 6,000 BC! They didn’t seem to be very interested in straightening teeth, but they were quite advanced when it came to treating endodontic problems.

Silver and Tin Fillings

Emperor Gaozu of the Tang Dynasty developed a toothache in 618 AD, and his tooth doctor recommended a dental filling made of melted silver and tin. It would have been a very painful procedure, but it was over a thousand years before European dentistry reached the same point!

Ancient Mouthwash

In daily life, ancient Chinese people would maintain their oral hygiene by gargling tea or salt water, and it became common practice during the Tang dynasty to chew on a willow twig in the morning after soaking it in water overnight. The twig’s protruding fibers worked a lot like a toothbrush.

Modern Dental Health

As fascinating as it is to look back on the dental health practices of ancient cultures, we recommend sticking to modern solutions, such as brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, cutting back on sugar consumption, and scheduling regular dental exams.

We leave you with a more recent relic of dental history:

Do you know any other ancient dental facts?

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Never Forget That Teeth Are Not Tools

TEETH HAVE MANY different uses, from chewing our food to helping us speak clearly to forming the structure of our faces. They also give us our smiles! These are the uses our teeth are for, but we risk causing serious damage to them when we use them as tools for other jobs.

Teeth Do Not Make Good Scissors or Nail Clippers

Nail-biting is a habit that can do enough damage to fill its own blog post, but it ties into the topic of proper and improper uses for teeth. The area underneath our fingernails is essentially impossible to properly clean. Germs love to grow there, and they transfer to our mouths when we bite our nails. Nail-biting also causes a lot of unnecessary wear and tear to the front teeth, potentially even shifting them out of place.

Apart from biting nails, it may sometimes seem convenient to bite through something like a piece of tape. The sawing motion to cut through tape involves a lot of grinding that damages the surface of the teeth. It’s not the same as a chewing motion. Some people even use their teeth on materials like wire, which can wear notches into them. It’s worth the extra few seconds to use scissors or pliers instead!

Teeth Are for Chewing Nuts, Not Cracking Them

If you enjoy pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, or even the half-popped kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bag, don’t use your teeth to crack them. It’s a great way to chip or crack a tooth, especially one that’s already undergone a dental procedure or one that has an untreated cavity. It’s much safer to use your hands or a nutcracker.

Teeth Are Not Good for Opening Bottles

Tooth enamel might be the hardest substance in the human body, but it’s much too brittle to withstand metal bottle caps. A tooth can chip on the edge, and even a little slip could result in a nasty gash on the lips or gums. Even if you think it looks cool to open a bottle with your teeth, we as dental professionals urge you to use an actual bottle opener.

Don’t Use Teeth as a Third Hand

If we’re in the middle of a busy task and run out of hands to hold things, it can be easy to briefly stick a pencil, some nails, or a few sewing pins in our mouths until we have a hand free. The added convenience isn’t worth the risks. Being hit with a sudden yawn, hiccup, sneeze, or cough, or even tripping over something could end in disaster.

Even without anything that dramatic, these items cause unusual wear on the chewing surfaces. Seamstresses who hold sewing pins in the same spots between their teeth over the years wear dents into them. Just use the pincushion instead!

Make Sure You Only Use Your Teeth for Their Intended Purposes

Fracturing and cracks are the third-highest cause of tooth loss, and we significantly reduce the risk of needing an emergency dental visit and a series of expensive restorative procedures if we only use our teeth for chewing and speaking. Also make sure to brush twice a day, floss daily, and schedule your regular dental checkups!

Another intended use of teeth is smiling, which we love to see!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
How to Get Ready for the First Dental Visit

PARENTS CAN DO a lot to help their child come into the dentist’s office feeling relaxed and positive. (We’ll take things from there.)

1. Start early. As soon as a child has teeth, they can benefit from dental care, and the earlier they see the dentist, the easier it is to build a trusting relationship.

2. Play pretend to explain what will happen if the child is very young. Parents can take the role of the dentist and help them see the experience as fun and interesting rather than scary.

3. For older children, a basic explanation will go a long way. Talk about visiting the dentist as something very normal and important for their teeth rather than leaving it as a mystery.

4. Make dental hygiene a priority. Kids who already know how much brushing and flossing matter will have an easier time appreciating the dentist.

5. Schedule a time to meet the dentist before the appointment. If the dentist isn’t a stranger on check-up day, the experience will be much less stressful. The same goes for the unfamiliar environment of the dental office.

6. Be there for support. No amount of information can replace the reassuring presence of a loved and trusted adult. Stay close by in early visits to offer encouragement and help them feel safe.

We look forward to meeting your child for the first time!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Dental Habits

PARENTING CAN BE such a wild time that you might struggle to find a moment to brush your own teeth, let alone brush theirs and teach them how to do it themselves. We have a few tips we hope will make this process a little smoother for your family.

Prioritize the Health of Baby Teeth

Temporary doesn’t mean unimportant. Just because your child’s baby teeth will be replaced with permanent teeth, it doesn’t mean it’s fine if they end up full of cavities. They need their baby teeth to chew their food, pronounce their words, and smile. Baby teeth are also placeholders for adult teeth. To protect them, aim for twice-daily brushing and daily flossing of any teeth that touch each other.

Begin Building Life-Long Habits Early

It isn’t always easy to teach a young child important life skills. They have boundless energy and short attention spans, so a session of sitting still with a toothbrush isn’t always going to go as planned. Following these tips might help as you’re trying to impart these essential skills:

  • Show them that brushing is a priority. If brushing your child’s teeth comes across to them as an inconvenient chore, they’ll see dental hygiene as an inconvenience. Frame it as something easy but unskippable — a part of every morning and evening.
  • Feel free to take brushing outside of the bathroom. All you need is a toothbrush to brush your child’s teeth wherever it’s easiest. It could save a lot of frustration.
  • Using toothpaste isn’t as important as using a toothbrush. If your child practiced their finger-painting skills with the entire toothpaste tube, simply brush without it until you can get more.
  • Let your child choose their own toothbrush. This will help them feel more ownership over the process and make it more exciting.
  • When possible, brush in front of the mirror so they can watch how the process works. It will also help them feel more involved.
  • Make brushing fun! They’ll be happier to cooperate if you treat it like a game. Maintain a cheerful attitude and play fun music in time with their two minutes of brushing.

Our Expertise Is for Your Benefit

We’re eager to hear all about your brushing routine with your child. Do you have a strategy that’s working well? How much have our tips helped? Make sure to tell us about it at your child’s next dental appointment.

We love to see your child’s healthy smile!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Time for a Lesson in Dental Anatomy!

THERE WON’T BE a pop-quiz later, but we still want our patients to be familiar with the anatomy of their teeth, starting with the crown and going down to the roots. Everything visible above the gums is the crown, which has three layers.

Tooth Enamel

On the outside is the enamel, the hardest substance in our bodies. It needs to be that hard to withstand a lifetime’s worth of chewing our food, but enamel doesn’t replace itself once it’s gone. That’s why it’s so important to brush, floss, limit our consumption of sugary and acidic food and drink, and schedule regular dental cleanings.

Dentin and Pulp

Underneath the enamel is the dentin, a more bony layer that is yellow and porous. At the very center is the pulp chamber, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The pulp is how our teeth feel temperature changes and pain if something is wrong. Never ignore dental pain; it’s a natural warning sign from the body!

Roots

Beneath the gum line are the roots of the teeth. They’re longer than the crowns, anchored deep in the jawbone and cushioned by the periodontal membrane. Unlike the crowns, roots are only protected by gum tissue and cementum (which isn’t as hard as enamel). Each root tip has a tiny hole, through which nerves and blood vessels connect to the pulp.

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Medieval England Versus Bad Breath

NOT MUCH WAS understood in Medieval England about cavities or gum disease, but they did care very much about keeping their breath fresh. They didn’t know about germs, and they believed that bad smells were infectious on their own, including bad breath.

The Masters of Masking Dental Problems With Smell

How did smell-based dental care work? Mostly by chewing spices. You can even find evidence of this practice in the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s characters keep their breath fresh by chewing cardamom and licorice. Women were sometimes recommended a mixture of aniseed, cumin, and fennel.

Rock-Hard Bread and Chipped Teeth

So which dental problems went unaddressed while all the focus was on breath? They didn’t have to worry about cavities too much because sugar wouldn’t enter their diets until the 1400s, but grinding flour between millstones tended to leave tiny bits of stone in their bread. You can imagine how much that could damage their teeth over time, and it was a big reason most adults would lose four to six teeth in their lifetimes.

Toothaches in the Middle Ages

What if you got a toothache? If you were rich, you could treat it with myrrh and opium. If not, you might be instructed to burn a mutton fat and sea holly seed candle very close to your tooth. This was supposed to make the “worms” inside the tooth fall out into a basin of water. (We’re very glad to live in the 21st century, where we know worms don’t cause toothaches.)

Fresh Breath in Modern Times

Today, we have the benefit of centuries more knowledge than people had in the middle ages. We know that bad breath isn’t the cause of dental problems but a symptom of them. The simplest and most common cause is leftover food particles stuck between our teeth after a meal. The bacteria in our mouths break down these particles, and the end result doesn’t smell good. We can combat this with a good daily hygiene routine.

Causes of Chronic Bad Breath

Chronic cases of bad breath (also called halitosis) might not be solved by good daily brushing and flossing habits. Halitosis may be caused by:

  • Chronic conditions. Sometimes, bad breath is linked to conditions that seem unrelated, such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and acid reflux.
  • Medications. A common side-effect of medications is dry mouth. Without saliva to wash away food particles and neutralize acid, the mouth is vulnerable to problems like bad breath.
  • Mouth-breathing. Whether it happens by habit or because breathing through the nose is difficult, mouth-breathing tends to dry out the mouth, leading to the same problems as described above.
  • Mouth, nose, and throat infections. Bad breath can be the result of increased mucous when we have a cold or a sinus infection.
  • Pregnancy. Symptoms such as morning sickness and nausea can cause bad breath because of the extra acid in the mouth. This is also a problem for people struggling with bulimia.
  • Tobacco products. Tobacco in any form leaves smelly chemicals in the mouth and can also dry it out. In addition, it increases the risk of oral cancer and gum disease, which negatively impact breath as well.
  • Tooth decay and gum disease. Poor dental health often goes hand-in-hand with chronic bad breath because cavities and periodontitis are caused by the same bacteria that produces those nasty-smelling chemicals.

Keeping Your Breath Fresh

Even if strict oral hygiene isn’t enough to keep the bad breath completely at bay, it will help to manage it, and treating the underlying cause may be able to eliminate it. If you are a habitual mouth-breather, try breathing through your nose more. Quitting smoking will eliminate a major cause of bad breath. If dry mouth is the problem, chew sugar-free gum and mints to stimulate saliva production, sip water, and use a humidifier to help keep up the moisture.

Finally, get help from the dentist!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
What Can Parents Do About Teething?

SOME OF US remember the soreness and discomfort of our incoming adult molars, not to mention how hard it was to chew. It’s the same for teething toddlers, but there’s a lot parents can do to help them through this phase.

Teething Symptoms

Beginning around six months, babies might start showing symptoms like excessive drooling, reduced willingness to breastfeed, rejecting food they used to like, difficulty sleeping, or general irritability. They might start biting, chewing, and sucking on everything they can reach or avoid it as much as they can. (Note that fever, runny nose, and diarrhea are not teething symptoms but could indicate a virus.)

Helping Soothe the Discomfort

Continuing breastfeeding can reduce teething pain, as can teething toys, which help the teeth cut through the gums faster while soothing discomfort. Avoid teething toys containing PVC, BPA, or phthalates, however, as these chemicals could be harmful if ingested. If the toy is full of gel, make sure it’s sturdy enough that a child won’t be able to reach the gooey center. Toys that can be chilled in the fridge and have clips to fasten to clothing are a good idea.

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Snoring, Sleep Apnea, and Teeth

SLEEP APNEA AFFECTS over 18 million adults and up to 20% of habitually snoring children in the United States alone. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by brief, repeated interruptions to normal breathing during sleep. It can have many short and long-term effects on a person’s health (to the point of being potentially life-threatening) and is also very harmful to oral health.

Sleep Apnea Comes in Different Types

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is caused by a blocked airway, usually the tongue relaxing back until it collapses against the soft palate, which in turn collapses against the back of the throat, sealing off the airway.

Less commonly, a person could have central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to send signals to the respiratory muscles to keep breathing during sleep. Some people have a combination of both types, which is called complex sleep apnea.

Whether the airway is physically blocked or the brain isn’t sending signals to breathe, the lack of oxygen causes the brain to react to alarm and force the person to wake up long enough to take a breath. They usually don’t remember waking up because it only lasts a few seconds, but it can happen as many as hundreds of times in a single night, making it impossible to get a restful night’s sleep. The cumulative effect on sleep quality can be severe.

Sleep Apnea and Oral Health

Aside from having to deal with symptoms of sleep deprivation like morning headaches, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating (all of which can be terrible for kids trying to do well in school), sleep apnea means oral health difficulties.

Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of moderate to severe gum disease and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). This is because the jaw reflexively clenches in an effort to keep the airway open during a sleep apnea episode. This kind of TMD issue can compound, leading to problems like pain when chewing, neck and shoulder pain, damaged teeth, and chronic headaches.

The Dentist Can Help

It is so common to experience dental symptoms with sleep apnea that the dentist is often the first health care professional to observe the signs and diagnose the condition. That’s one good reason of many to keep up with your and your child’s regular dental appointments — not just for the sake of your oral health, but also your overall health!

Common ways sleep apnea is treated include nighttime dental devices that adjust the position of the jaw and tongue and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.

Healthier Sleep Means a Healthier Smile!

We all need to sleep well to feel our best. If you or your child have been struggling with the effects of sleep apnea, your next visit to the dentist could change your life. Schedule your next appointment today, and we can see if you’re showing signs of sleep apnea and put you on the path to a full night’s sleep and the healthy smile you deserve.

Wishing a wonderful night’s sleep to all of our patients!

Top image by Flickr user originallittlehellraiser used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
A Patient’s Guide to Finding a Good Dentist in Midlothian

midlothian dentist

PEOPLE IN MIDLOTHIAN might need to find a new dentist for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they just moved into the area. Maybe their old one retired. Maybe they’re new parents and need to find one for their child. Whatever the reason is, we recommend not waiting until an urgent dental health emergency pops up before finding a dental practice that fits your needs. Here are five important factors to keep in mind when searching for the best dentist for you.

1. Location, Location, Location!

How close is the practice to your home? To your child’s school or where they play sports? To your workplace? Make sure the distance isn’t so great that making it to twice-yearly checkups will become a major inconvenience. It’s a good idea to decide on a radius that seems doable for you and your family, then determine who the best dentist is within that radius. On the other hand, there might be a practice slightly farther away that is still worth it for other reasons!

2. Reputation Matters

What kind of reviews does the practice have? What are their other patients saying about them? Check out the Yelp and Google reviews and maybe ask around your neighborhood, coworkers, and friend group to see if anyone you know is familiar with that particular practice. While there can sometimes be hidden gems, a lot of good feedback is generally a positive sign.

3. What Specialties Can They Claim?

A dental practice that operates close to you and has fantastic reviews might still not be right for you if they don’t offer some of the services you think you’re likely to need. How good are they with child patients? Do they offer cosmetic treatments? How much experience do they have with root canal therapy or treating gum disease? Do some research into a dentist’s specialties to see if they’re a good fit.

4. How Well Do They Fit Your Budget?

Sometimes a practice’s only flaw is the cost of their services in comparison to your budget, or that they aren’t in your dental insurance network. It’s still important to find a dentist for regular appointments in this case, because those checkups are much easier on a budget than a serious dental problem that could’ve been caught and treated cheaply in an early stage. Finding a budget-friendly dentist is an excellent investment, both financially and in terms of dental health.

5. Patient Comfort

If you aren’t comfortable around a dentist or within their practice, then the other factors might not matter much to you. It’s a good idea to pay a practice you’re considering an early visit just to get a sense of the place and the staff. A good dental practice will always prioritize patient comfort, especially considering how many patients struggle with dental anxiety!

Meanwhile, keep up those oral hygiene habits!

We Look Forward to Meeting You as Your Midlothian Dentist!

If you weren’t sure how to start looking for a great dentist in Midlothian, VA before, we hope we’ve given you a few ideas of where to begin! If you want to learn more about our practice to see if we’re a good fit for you, just give us a call or stop by. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have!

Thank you for trusting us with your dental health needs!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Chewing Ice Is Bad for Our Teeth

WE HEAR A LOT that it’s bad to chew ice. It’s because ice can do a lot of damage to our teeth and gums.

Extreme Temperature Changes Versus Enamel

Tooth enamel might be the strongest substance in the body, but it’s also brittle. The issue with ice isn’t just that it’s hard, it’s also that it’s cold. Extreme temperature changes cause tooth enamel to expand and contract, creating tiny cracks and weakening the overall structure. It’s the same thing that happens to pavement in places that get snow.

Gum Injuries and Tooth Damage

While weaker enamel can lead to tooth sensitivity and vulnerability to decay, ice also isn’t good for gum tissue. It’s so cold that it creates a numbing effect, which can make it difficult to notice if it causes an injury to the gums. It’s also hard enough to break or chip teeth.

Where Do the Cravings Come From?

Why crave ice if there are only downsides to chewing it? The scientific term for compulsive ice eating is pagophagia. It could indicate an eating disorder called pica (the compulsion to eat non-food items, or it could be related to iron deficiency anemia. The chill of ice stimulates blood flow, counteracting low oxygen levels in the brain, but that only treats a symptom of anemia, not the cause.

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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