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The Importance of Discussing Health with Patients

It’s important to keep an open conversation with your patients.

 

Nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. But not everyone is the same. You can’t give the same diet to every person. Based on their existing health and genetics requires varying compositions of healthy diets.

 

As dental hygienists, we can often see early signs of several different makeups. Because we can see these things, it is up to us to start a discussion with patients and highlight details that otherwise may not have considered from you.

 

Enamel Erosion Signs and Causes

For example, patients often are found with enamel erosion. On the surface of teeth, the hypoplastic enamel could be slick or smoother-looking. This is a result of your enamel being worn down from several dietary related causes like:

  • GERD
  • Alcoholism
  • Eating Disorders
  • Drug Abuse
  • Highly Acidic diets

Teeth may appear discoloured or even transparent, or they are overly sensitive. If this occurs, it is important to have open up a conversation with your dentist for potential causes or solutions.

 

Recommendations for Enamel Erosion

The problem with the enamel is that is it not a living tissue, so it cannot be regenerated naturally. It can’t be regrown artificially either actually.

 

Once enamel is gone, it’s gone.

 

There are however a few things that doctors will suggest minimizing further damage:

 

1. Use straws

By using straws, patients minimize the contact of liquid to teeth. This helps with sensitive teeth for particularly cold beverages too.

 

2. Wait 30+ minutes to brush your teeth after eating or drinking

When eating or drinking something, especially something particularly acidic, the tooth enamel softens from the foods. Brushing too soon after eating or drinking can damage the enamel when it is already in a sensitive or weak state.

 

3. Use a toothpaste without whitening or tartar control

Fluoride toothpaste is the best option because it is known to strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay.

 

4. Chew gum with xylitol or fluoride mouthwash

Since xylitol is a natural sweetener and have shown signs that it reduces the amount of bacteria in your mouth that causes cavities. This is because xylitol cannot provide suitable nutrition for the organisms to flourish. The less cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth, the better environment for healthy teeth.

 

Similarly, fluoride mouthwash is great for protecting your teeth from acids and cavities. It is especially important for children with developing teeth because it can be a preventative.

 

5. Adapt to a carbohydrate-free or highly hypoglycidal diet

A study investigated the correlation with diet and enamel erosion and found an interesting correspondence. Patients with a carbohydrate-free diet (sugars, starches) reduce acid reflux and clinical manifestations were almost eliminated.

 

Tooth Decay Signs and Causes

The second example found commonly that dictates a conversation about diet with the dentist is signs of caries.

 

A high caries rate is related to a diet high in sugar and 51% of Americans have a sweet tooth.

 

Some signs of tooth decay:

  • Tooth aches or sensitivities
  • Visible holes in teeth
  • Staining on teeth (black, brown or white in colour)
  • Pain when biting

When dental hygienists notice signs of tooth decay, it is time to discuss the patient’s diet. This could lead to further discussions on daily foods consumed.

 

It’s important to gain insight into when the most sugar is being consumed. Even having one meal high in sugar will increase the likelihood of tooth decay.

 

Some foods that increase your likelihood of caries are:

  • Soda, juice and sports drinks
  • Candy
  • Fruit snacks
  • Frequent intake of starchy foods
  • Sugar in coffee

In 2014, the World Health Organization reduced the recommended daily sugar intake to 5%. The average adult should be consuming approximately 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. This not only helps prevent caries but also the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

 

Starting the Conversation

There are countless resources to open up the conversation about the importance of sugar or acidic free diets.

  • Contacting public health and nutrition department for local resources and pamphlets
  • MouthHealthy.gov
  • Utilizing choosemyplate.gov to evaluate a patient’s needs

For most patients, they just don’t know what to look for or where to start. So, it is up to dental hygienists to educate and work with the patients so they can have a happier and healthier smile.

 

It can’t just be one conversation either. Working closely with patients is the key to ensuring they have a well-balanced diet fit for their needs.

 

The more we communicate with patients the more comfortable they will be. By opening up, it may also alleviate stress and anxiety that often is associated with the dentist.

 

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