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The Biology of Smiling

Happy young blond girl with missing front teethWhy do we have teeth?

We’ve got teeth for chewing, that’s for sure. And chewing means you’re getting more nutrition out of the food you consume. So that makes sense.

We also need teeth for speaking. If you’ve ever talked to a 7 year old who was missing some front teeth while waiting for their new ones to come in, you may have noticed that some of their “sss” sounds and “fff” sounds were a little off.

But what about smiling? Do we smile only as a side effect for having this awesome chewing and speaking apparatus?

The first question you might ask might be, “do any other animals smile?” The answer to that question is “kind of.”

Since people can communicate with the spoken or written word, we rely less on “nonverbal” communication than other animals. But any husband who’s ever asked their noticeably angry wife “what’s wrong?” and gotten the answer “nothing” knows…words don’t always communicate the complete meaning.

Animals communicate in a wide variety of ways. From the song of the humpback whale to the intricate dance of one bee explaining to its hive where the best flowers are, animals are amazing communicators. Often, parts of their body have become specialized to communicate. Take a beaver’s flat tail. When alarmed, one beaver can tell many other beavers of danger just by smacking that flat tail on the water. If you’ve ever heard that noise, you can see how effective it is!

Dogs and other ca800px-Do_not_take_his_bonenines are amazing nonverbal communicators. They have a body that’s perfectly designed to communicate with members of their pack and even the humans that come into their social circles. They’ve got tails that can wag, expressive ears, hair that can stand up or lay flat and they’ve also got long, noticeable teeth that can easily be displayed! However, if you’re seeing a dog’s teeth, you probably understand that they’re smile doesn’t mean the same thing as your grandmother’s!

It seems that our reaction to a smile is universal. In other primates, baring the teeth is usually a sign of aggression. Yet, when the teeth are shown while held closer together, it’s a sign of submission. A kind of nonverbal “hello, friend.” In humans, these kind of facial expressions seem to be instinctual. Infants can recognize a smile as soon as they can focus their eyes and even at this age the smile is associated with pleasure. Amazingly enough, human beings who were born blind and have never seen another smile are hard wired to smile themselves when they are happy and feeling pleasure.

Clearly, in humans smiling is built into our DNA. Teeth aren’t just for chewing and speaking. Teeth are for SMILING! If you aren’t happy and confident about your smile, I want to help! The team at Mead Family Dental can help you achieve the smile you’ve always wanted. We offer interest free payment plans that can fit most any budget. Give us a call at (989) 799-9133 or email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com and we’ll get you smiling again!

Did this post make you smile? Did it make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

Three easy things you can do for healthier teeth this year

The New Yeawhite keyboard with easy buttonr brings renewal. Every year we think to ourselves…what am I going to do differently this year? And every year we make unrealistic resolutions about running 5 miles per day, losing 50 lbs and never eating fast food again.

This year should be different! If you’re going to make resolutions, why not make them the easy kind? I mean “falling off a log” easy. The kind where you almost can’t help but succeed. In the spirit of easy resolutions for the new year I give you three easy things you can do for healthier teeth this year.

  • Drink less sugar: It’s pretty trendy to be anti-sugar. I’m not someone who believes that all sugar is evil, but I think that moderation is a good idea. As a dentist, I tend to see sugar differently than dietitians. When you take sugar in, the bacteria (aka: bugs) in your mouth’s natural flora (aka: plaque) take that sugar in, too. The bugs turn this sugar into acid, and this acid starts to dissolve your teeth. So before the sugar ever makes into your bloodstream, we dentists are concerned about the acid that it’s creating in your mouth. Furthermore, the sugar found in drinks like soda and fruit juice is concentrated and easily absorbed by the bugs. Plus, people often sip these sugary beverages over a period of time, which creates an acid attack that lasts much longer. If you’re careful about the sugar in your beverages, you can make a big difference in the amount of acid those bugs can create! So instead of that 20oz. Coke or tall can of Red Bull, why not reach for something sugar free? Water is probably the best, but I won’t fault you for sugar free options like diet sodas and “Crystal Light-like” beverages as well. Carbonated beverages like diet sodas can cause a problem if you drink a lot of it, to be sure. But we’re interested in reducing your risk for cavities, not sainthood!
  • Pack of dental flossPut floss in the shower:  The second easy thing you can do to make your teeth healthier this year is putting floss in your shower. That’s all. Just put it in your shower. I’m not talking loose pieces of floss or anything. Just put the spool somewhere that won’t get too wet, preferably next to your shampoo. Every time you take your shower, you’re going to look at that spool of floss. Maybe you’ll just look at it. But probably you’ll realize that brushing your teeth alone only stirs up 60% of the bugs on your teeth. If you snuck some floss in between those teeth a few times per week, you’d be making a change for the better. I mean, you’re already in the shower washing up your other parts, why not take a minute to clean up the spots in between your teeth?
  • Sugarless gum or mints:  The last easy thing you can do for healthier teeth is sugarless gum. Or mints. Whatever makes your hair fly back. If you chew sugarless gum or suck on a sugarless mint for 5 minutes (but only five minutes) after meals and snacks you can stimulate your mouth’s natural clean up crew! Chewing sugarless gum stimulates your saliva glands to go to work. Stimulating your saliva flow can stop acid damage caused by the bugs in your mouth as well as acidy foods. And all you have to do is enjoy delicious sugarless gum or mints! See, I told you. Super easy!

So put down the barbells and diet books and realize that success in New Year’s resolutions is three easy steps!

Did this post seem easy? Did it give you resolve? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

Recipe for a popping jaw

recipe cardI’ve recently had several patients complaining of a “popping jaw.” In many cases, it’s not them who are complaining. It’s anyone that they have to eat with.

“It doesn’t hurt or anything. It just makes a popping sound when I’m chewing. My mom is really grossed out by it.”

When I do an exam I find that their jaw has a very noticeable clicking when they open. Sometimes it’s both sides, but more often it seems like it’s only on one side.

Then, I ask the most important question that can be asked about a painless jaw pop.

“Do you chew gum?”

9 times out of 10 I get the sheepish look. Busted.

“Yes. I chew gum.”

“How often. Every once in awhile?”

“Maybe a little more than that.”

In fact, for some gum chewers it’s most of the time. If I were to generalize about who are my most common gum chewers/jaw poppers I would have to say that they’re probably female and in their mid 20’s. Sometimes a little older. And they probably needed a paper towel to throw their gum out before we cleaned their teeth. Luckily for them, they don’t have pain associated with the jaw pop. But as they age, that can change.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve written about the magic of chewing sugarless gum for reducing tooth decay. It’s true. But if you go back and read closely I recommend 5 minutes or so. Not longer than it takes for the flavor to run out, anyhow.

close up on a beautiful girl while enjoying a candyChronic gum chewers are working out their chewing muscles and jaw joints. A lot. These are muscles that don’t need the extra workout, though. Since we have to eat to survive, our regular day to day chewing, talking (or yelling, if you have small children) and living are plenty of exercise. Overuse of the muscles of mastication (chewing muscles) and jaw joints creates greater risk for a popping jaw, headaches and even chronic pain of the neck.

Have your knees ever popped when you run up the stair? I know mine do. That popping is a similar thing that goes on in your popping jaw joint. It’s a disk of cartilege and connective tissue that’s slipping between two bone surfaces. I know that’s gross sounding, but it’s exactly what’s happening.

Now, did your knees do that when you were a little kid? Probably not. But as we age and, in some cases gain weight, we continue to put more and more stress on our knees. We’re overusing them. So these joints react. Sometimes they pop when they’re used. And sometimes they can become painful and need treatment.

Gum chewing as a habit if a near perfect storm for jaw popping. I’m O.K. with a person chewing sugarless gum for a few minutes after meals and snacks. That can help prevent tooth decay and it can give you nice, fresh breath. But not for more than a few minutes. You could unintentionally causing problems for yourself down the road.

Did you find this post snappy? Did it make you crackle? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

The Question

Jacob washes a fork

More enthusiasm than skill. (Yes, that is a horse you can see out the window.)

My son Jacob is a bit of a neat freak. I mean, for a four year old. Sure, there are Legos strewn across the floor most of the time and his bed has a giant pile of trucks on it. But he likes to clean. What he really likes is the idea of cleaning. He likes the cool tools you can use to clean (vaccum cleaners, sink sprayers) and he likes to hang clean pans up on their hooks in the kitchen.

So this morning he came up to me asking me to put soap in the dishwasher. At first I was a little worried at what I would find, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had simply put a glass in the dishwasher. He was ready to turn the dishwasher on and wanted me to help. So we proceeded to finish filling the dishwasher and started it. Then, he asked to help with the hand wash dishes.

Naturally, he dragged a chair into the kitchen so he could be right in the middle of the action. We filled the sink with soapy water (extra bubbles, of course) and dove into the pots and pans.

Like I said, the kid likes to clean. He grabbed a dishcloth and scrubbed with feeling! He was covered in bubbles and smiling, but the dishes weren’t really that clean. He missed the tougher spots. The pans were still pretty greasy. His little four year old hands didn’t quite have the manual dexterity that was necessary to get the job done. What he lacked in skill he made up with in enthusiasm, yet at the end of the exercise, I had to clean where he had missed.

Now, I’m flashing back to a conversation I had with a mom about her 7 year old boy’s brushing habits. When I examined him I could see that his gums were pretty irritated and April told me that he had a lot of plaque on his molar teeth. Mom told me that she has him brush twice a day most days. The I asked her the question:

“Would you let him do the dishes by himself?”

She looked at me like was crazy. “Well, no,” she said.

I explained that he wasn’t quite ready to brush his teeth on his own. I use this analogy with most of the parents in my practice. Brushing teeth isn’t brain surgery, but it does need a certain amount of dexterity and attention to detail to get the job done right. Furthermore, a parent standing over a child looking directly at the surface that they are brushing (using the previously described “loving headlock” technique) is going to remove plaque and debris much better than the child can alone. 99% of the time you’ll find a clean mouth doesn’t get cavities, so it’s important that the job gets done well. When it’s a child, it’s less important who does the job.

girl brushing teeth

She’s adorable, but would you let her do your dishes?

I think it’s great that Jacob wants to wash dishes and I’m glad that he does it! It’s just that he’s not ready to do it solo. Some kids are probably conscientious enough to wash the dishes at 7 or 8. Some kids probably shouldn’t be allowed to wash dishes at age 16! The parents definitely know them best and should make the judgement. I think the same goes for brushing teeth. If you’re a parent, you need to ask yourself the question. If they aren’t ready to do the dishes on their own, they aren’t ready to brush their teeth without supervision.

Did you find this post soapy clean? Did it make you ask the question? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

“Did you take your premedication?”

I hear these words almost every day. Someone on my amazing and responsible team is either reminding a patient to take their premedication or asking them at the appointment if they did remember. They’ve gotten really good at it because we’ve been doing it as long as I’ve been a dentist. Dentists have been acting as if dental procedures are inherently risky for developing heart problems or artificial joint infections in certain patient populations. It’s time to set the record straight.

Virus infectionInfective endocarditis is a scary sounding condition. It happens when bacteria get into the bloodstream and end up infecting the lining of the heart, a heart valve or even a blood vessel. It’s a very uncommon infection. People who have certain heart conditions are clearly at greater risk than the rest of the population. But the one thing everyone seems to know is that dental treatment is almost always the cause. We know this because the mouth is full of bacteria, and dentists and hygienists cause bleeding with their treatment. So bacteria is definitely going to enter the bloodstream if you have dental treatment and if you are at greater risk for infective endocarditis, you better look out.

So what have we done for dental patients with these heart conditions? We preventively treat them with antibiotics. A LOT of antibiotics. We used to give them doses of antibiotics days before and after dental treatment. But then later we dropped the dosage down to an hour before and several hours after. And now, we just give it an hour before.

But it’s O.K. Because we have solid evidence that our intervention prevents infective endocarditis at these levels, so it is worth doing, right? Well. Not really. The American Heart Association has continued to change its guidelines for premedication to the point where we only rarely premedicate patients with certain very serious heart conditions. For instance, we premedicate people who have had a previous case of infective endocarditis. Also folks with prosthetic heart valves and a few other rare congenital heart problems.

One of the more bizarre aspects of our tendency to premedicate our patients is the assumption that dental procedures in particular cause a great risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream. If you’ve ever bitten your tongue, flossed a little too hard or bitten down on a Dorito in the wrong way and caused a wound in your mouth, you’ve had an “event” that cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream. But you don’t see us lobbying Frito Lay to start lacing their corn chips with amoxicillin! The evidence for dental procedures causing infective endocarditis has always been a little thin. Patients treated for endocarditis (yes, thank goodness it’s very treatable) are always asked if they’ve had recent dental treatment. Some patients may have, so it was assumed that the dental treatment caused the infection. What I really want to know is if cardiologists are screening for nacho chips or beef jerky.

The American Heart Association continued to evaluate the evidence for taking a large dose of antibiotics prior to dental treatment Prescriptionand found little to no proof that the antibiotics prevented infective endocarditis. For that I say “three cheers for the AHA!” Many dentists and patients don’t think much about the megadose of antibiotics that their patients were routinely taking prior to routine dental treatments. What many don’t consider is that a hypersensitivity (allergic) reaction to antibiotics can happen at any time. Just because you aren’t allergic to amoxicillin now doesn’t mean you’ll alway s tolerate it. In fact, the more often you have to take it, the more chances you have to develop hypersensitivity to it. What I’m saying is even though taking antibiotics is common place for most people, there is still a risk involved. In fact, the AHA weighed the risk of taking a prophylactic dose of antibiotics agains the risk of developing infective endocarditis and determined that the risk was only worthwhile in a very select number of patients.

The AHA did what so many doctors, dentists and patients are unwilling or unable to do. They evaluated the evidence and changed their recommendations! Here at Mead Family Dental we follow the 2007 AHA guidelines for the very few patients that require premedication for a heart condition. A few patients who have been premedicating for a long time, find the change disconcerting. They assume that what they’ve been doing all along was correct and that the new recommendations are putting them at risk. However, most of these patients are tickled at the idea of not dealing with this premedication regimen.

A more complicated and less well defined problem is the risk of infection of artificial joints. I will tackle this problem the sequel to this post: “My surgeon told me to premedicate for life.”

Did you find this post heartwarming? Did it raise your heart rate a little? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

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