UNDER MOST CIRCUMSTANCES, dentists are not fans of candy. The sugar in candy is the favorite food of bacteria that cause tooth decay. However, when it comes to chocolate, certain types may actually be good for oral health!
To be clear, this is not a blog post in which we give you a free pass to eat all the chocolate you want. Only certain types of chocolate have any health benefits, and too much of even the healthiest kinds probably isn’t a good thing.
All Chocolate Is Not Created Equal
How can you tell where any given chocolate falls on the spectrum from most processed to least? It helps to know a little about how chocolate is made. The most important ingredient is the cocoa bean. After fermenting, the beans can either be roasted and made into cocoa powder, or cold pressed into cacao powder, which retains more of the original nutrients. You’ll get the most nutrients from cacao nibs or powder, but the stuff is pretty bitter and the chocolatey taste isn’t as strong.
If you’d rather stick with the chocolate you’re used to, there are still factors to consider. The main ingredients in a chocolate bar are cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (if it’s milk chocolate). White chocolate is made with cocoa butter and sugar and contains no cocoa solids, so it has none of the beneficial nutrients. Milk chocolate tends to contain at most 10 percent cocoa solids, so the tiny amount of nutrients from the cocoa beans is offset by a ton of sugar. Not a healthy choice. But let’s talk about dark chocolate.
The Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, particularly 70 percent cocoa (or cacao) or higher, is where you’ll start hearing buzzwords like “superfood.” That’s because the cocoa bean is full of healthy antioxidants–specifically, polyphenols, flavonoids, and tannins–and dark chocolate has enough cocoa in it to keep most of them. Bonus points: there isn’t much sugar.
Antioxidants have all kinds of benefits for overall health, but let’s focus on oral health. Saliva is the mouth’s first line of defense against tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath, and antioxidants play a crucial role in all of those. They help stabilize and strengthen your own oral tissues, protect against cell mutation, and make it harder for harmful bacteria to flourish.
Chocolate Still Isn’t Everything
Like we said before, this blog post isn’t a license for you to eat as much chocolate as you want. No matter how full of antioxidants it is, dark chocolate still doesn’t replace other important oral health habits like brushing, flossing, and regular dental appointments. If you love to snack, however, you might consider swapping a few items heavy in processed sugars for dark chocolate or cacao nibs. Your teeth will thank you!
And if you do think you may have overdone it on the Halloween Candy, we can take a good look at your next dental visit. Call any of our Dental Elements offices and we can get you scheduled right away.
Your healthy teeth are our pride and joy!
The Daily Grind Of Bruxism
MOST PEOPLE GRIND OR CLENCH their teeth briefly when annoyed or in a tense situation. That level of teeth-grinding isn’t really something to worry about. It’s when you do it far more frequently, often without even realizing it (you might even do it in your sleep!), that it can potentially become a serious problem. The medical term for this kind of teeth-grinding is bruxism.
Bruxism: What and Why
Sleep bruxism (or nocturnal bruxism) can happen as a side-effect of snoring and sleep apnea, and awake bruxism (or diurnal bruxism) can happen as a side-effect of stress in your daily life. However, not everyone with a sleep disorder or a stressful life has bruxism, and not everyone with bruxism has a sleep disorder or a ton of stress. Another possible cause is improperly aligned teeth.
Because there isn’t one clear cause, treatment can sometimes be tricky, and the focus is often on the symptoms and minimizing the damage more than curing the underlying condition. Even if you aren’t aware that you’re grinding your teeth, any of the following symptoms could point to bruxism:
- Sore jaw (with sleep bruxism, your jaw will be most sore when you wake up, whereas with awake bruxism, it’ll be most sore before you go to bed)
- Frequent headaches from all the strain
- Hypertrophy in your jaw muscles (because you’re giving them quite the workout!)
- Shifting teeth
- Flattened chewing surfaces of teeth
- Exposed dentin and increased tooth sensitivity
- Chipped/cracked/split teeth
- Tooth loss
Your Next Steps
Depending on which type of bruxism you have, there are a variety of treatments or approaches to either reduce the grinding or the damage it causes.
With behavioral therapy or habit-reversal techniques, you can become more aware of your clenching/grinding habits and consciously work to stop. This one works better when you have awake bruxism than sleep bruxism, because it’s obviously much harder to control your jaw muscles in your sleep.
Particularly for stress-related bruxism, relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, massages, warm baths, calming music, and a full night’s sleep can help you de-stress and stop grinding.
Wearing A Mouthguard
A mouthguard or splint serves as a pillow between your upper and lower teeth. It won’t stop the grinding, but it protects your teeth from damage. During the month of September, Dental Elements is offering discounted fees for mouthguards. Contact any of our offices right now to get scheduled!
Medication As Prescribed By Your Doctor
Muscle relaxant medication, as prescribed by your general practitioner, might help you unclench while you sleep. However, medicine is rarely used to treat bruxism, especially if other treatments are helping.
Check out this video for more information and a few other ideas on how to combat bruxism or minimize the damage:
We Can Help!
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be due to bruxism and you should schedule an appointment so we can make a plan for how to address it. You don’t want to leave it untreated until it gets to the point where it’s damaging your teeth.