Sugar Awareness Week: How to Triumph a Sugar-Free Diet

by MikeMeehan 1/20/2017 2:16 PM

You might have joined us earlier as we participated in Sugar Awareness Week. Our useful posts are still available on Facebook. Eating excessively sugary foods can cause tooth decay. But the right diet can lead to a healthy smile. This journal details what that diet might look like, as well as the challenges that might come along. Day 1 Shopping for groceries, I began weighing what parts of my diet would work in my favor against what would work against me: One favor — I didn’t drink soda regularly. And against me — Well, I still had a box of cookies in my pantry. I was participating in Sugar Awareness Week, which meant I had to give up sugar for an entire work week. The purpose, however, wasn’t to completely eliminate all sugar. I needed it to maintain proper blood sugar levels. The purpose was to eliminate refined sugars. At the store, the fresh foods (meat, fruits and vegetables) were easy. But for the others, I had to eye the nutritional information. Sugar goes by a lot of different names, so I made a list to watch out for. All in all, the first day wasn’t too bad. But I’d read accounts from people who’d accepted the challenge. “Just wait till the second day,” a lot of them had said. Day 2 By the start of Day 2, I’d already started to notice a difference. The night before, I’d gone to bed at 10:30, earlier than usual. Generally, it takes about 20 minutes to fall asleep, but I fell asleep right away. Then, this morning, when the alarm went off, I felt wide awake, whereas it typically takes about 20 minutes for the grogginess to lift. However, as I went through the day, I began to experience withdrawal symptoms. By mid-afternoon, I had a headache. It felt similar to going too long without coffee. Other symptoms, I had read, could include tiredness, lightheadedness, muscle aches and/or cramps. The best place to start, I figured, was to recognize the cause for craving. Was it boredom, stress or something deeper? This was difficult to identify. I’ve always known I had a sweet tooth; I just believed I had it relatively under control. I’d once made a pack of cake squares last for a month, and I still had bags of candy bars left from Halloween. Despite this, I was not exempt from the effects of refined sugars. Day 3 Waking up today, the headache from yesterday had subsided. But by the afternoon, the cravings had returned. Not only did I find myself craving snacks I knew had a lot of sugar — ice cream run, anyone? — I craved simple carbohydrates, like white bread. The reason, I learned, is simple carbohydrates turn into sugar quickly once they’re in the digestive process. That evening, friends came over, and we played board games. This helped distract me from the cravings. Another recommended way to fight cravings is to keep a journal. Lucky for me, I’m writing a blog. Day 4 This morning, I didn’t have time to prepare eggs, so I settled for an apple, a banana and broccoli, which I munched in the office. Yum. Actually, as I bit into the banana, I was surprised. It tasted sweeter than a banana had ever tasted before. I almost felt like I was cheating, as if I were biting into a sugar cube. Even the banana’s body seemed to glisten with what looked like sugar crystals. Maybe four days without refined sugar had made me crazy. Or perhaps my body had officially adapted to a diet of no refined sugar. Years of eating refined sugar, it seemed, had tempered my taste buds’ perception of sweetness in fruit. I expected the cravings to return by afternoon, because they’d struck the past two days around then. Come 3:30 p.m., they still hadn’t. Regardless, I made sure to drink lots of water, as water can help with the cravings. Without enough water in our system, we can start to feel tired. Our tendency, oftentimes, is to waken ourselves with sugar. By 4 p.m., I’d drunk about 105 ounces of water. In the evening, a friend invited me to dinner. When the server approached the table, I asked him if he knew which items contained hidden sugars. He didn’t. What about a list of nutritional information? As it turns out, not too many people ask about hidden sugars in their food. The server offered to do some sleuthing, but I just ordered a burger with provel cheese and no bun, and as a side, mashed potatoes. Biting into the burger, I tasted pepper. A seasoning had been applied, and seasonings are often hidden-sugar culprits. But I was also hungry, so I was willing to risk it. The burger was delicious. Day 5 At the office, somebody dropped off an assortment of sweets: Christmas tree cakes and brownies, lollipops. Normally, I wouldn’t have been able to ignore them. Today, I ate a banana instead. Another friend suggested we do lunch. This time, I had enough advance notice to research online the menus of nearby restaurants. Even some healthy options, like salads, I found, contained sugar — usually thanks to the dressings. Nevertheless, I found a sugar-free option — a sub sandwich wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun — and suggested we go there. By the afternoon, the office sweets began to bother me. I distracted myself with a quick physical activity, strolling the perimeter of the building. As I completed the work week, I had a new respect for sugar awareness. I’d felt the effects of refined sugar in my system, and I hadn’t even realized it was a problem! For the future, I doubt I’ll be as rigorous (like, I’ll probably get a bun on my next hamburger), but I’ll keep an eye open for hidden sugars. Of course, one thing won’t change: I’ll keep brushing twice and flossing daily!

In 1492, How Did Columbus’ Teeth Do?

by MikeMeehan 10/10/2016 3:10 PM

In 1492 / Columbus sailed the ocean blue… Even today, you probably still have those two lines from Jean Marzollo’s poem memorized. Unfortunately, the poem doesn’t let us know about Columbus’ teeth. That’s ok, because we can garner some insight from other poems. Take Geoffrey’s Chaucer’s prologue of The Canterbury Tales, for example: When the West Wind also with its sweet breath / In every wood and field has breathed life into… We can infer “sweet breath” was important to people in the Middle Ages. And, thanks to the poem “O How Sweet the Breeze of April” by Arnaud de Marveil, we can also infer “snow-white teeth.” But if teeth were important to people in the Middle Ages… How Did They Take Care of Their Teeth? We have a few clues about how people in the Middle Ages took care of their teeth. For example, this page recounts how one woman, Jennifer A. Heise, tried several medieval tooth powders and rubs. Fresh Breath Powders Heise points us to two types of powders mentioned in Gilbertus Anglicus’ Compendium of Medicine: “And let him use this powder: Take of pepper, one ounce; and of mint, as much; and of rock salt, as much. And make him to chew this powder a good while in his mouth, and then swallow it down.” “And let him use these pills that are good for all manner of stinking of the mouth: Take of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace, eight drams; of red sandlewood, ten drams; of quibibis, seven drams; of cardamom, five drams. Mix them with the juice of mint and make pills of the size of a fig. And let him to have two of them under either side of his tongue at once.” In both cases, Heise described a burning sensation. But for the spice balls — the one with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace — she said her breath was noticeably sweeter. Tooth Rubs Gilbertus Anglicus also wrote about tooth rubs: “. . . let the mouth be washed with wine that birch or mint has simmered in. And let the gums be well rubbed with a sharp linen cloth until they bleed…And let him rub well his teeth with the chewed herbs and also his gums. . . .” Heise reports her teeth did feel cleaner and less gummy afterward. What Can We Learn from the People in the Middle Ages? Obviously, today, we don’t use the same tooth powders or rubs as people in the Middle Age. Yet, while those aren’t the same as squeezing a dab of toothpaste onto a toothbrush, and brushing in short, circular strokes for two minutes, we can still take away some oral hygiene pointers of our own. We are what we eat. This answer to a Quora question credits better teeth to diet. For example, during the Middle Ages, most people couldn’t afford sugar. According to this medieval sourcebook, sugar cost 1 to 3 shillings a pound, and the average family budgeted 600 to 2,000 shillings a year on meals (anywhere from two to six shillings a day). As a result, people used sugar sparingly, if at all. This helped their teeth a lot, as sugar can act as a stimulant for plaque. To prevent disease, get into a tooth-cleaning routine. “And after every meal, let him wash well his mouth and rub well his gums and his teeth so that no corrupt matter abides among the teeth.” There’s a lot we can take to heart from Gilbertus Anglicus. This Columbus Day, as we reflect on Columbus and other medieval forefathers, let’s remember our own snowy-whites, keep our breath smelling sweet and keep our teeth free of plaque.

Don’t Brush It Off: This Self-Improvement Month, Improve Your Brushing Technique

by MikeMeehan 9/22/2016 4:07 PM

September has been designated National Self-Improvement Month. And though the designation has proven surprisingly difficult to substantiate — the National Day Calendar listed its history as “To Be Researched” — a little self-improvement never hurt. In fact, you might expect the exact opposite. When it comes to dental hygiene, brushing and flossing are some of the most important routines for your smile, yet they could possibly use a little improvement. Why You Need to Brush and Floss Brushing and flossing can remove plaque, tartar and stains. These three culprits can cause problems of all sorts:   Cavities Gum disease, like gingivitis or periodontitis Weakened tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to chips or cracks   Conditions like these can wreak havoc on your smile. But the issues don’t stop there. In fact, here’s a saying worth remembering: You can’t spell overall without oral. As in, oral health directly affects overall wellness. Bad oral health doesn’t just put you at risk for cavities, gum disease, and weakened tooth enamel; it can increase risks for serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The solution, of course, is brushing and flossing, but only when done so properly. There are a few improper ways of going about them: Three Wrong Ways to Brush   Brushing with force. Brushing too hard might make you feel like you’re getting your teeth extra clean, but your teeth won’t be thanking you. Using too much force can lead to tooth abrasion, little notches in the teeth near the gums. Starting in the same place every time. Usually, when something is routine, the tendency is to start in the exact same place every single time. For brushing, this isn’t necessarily the best technique. It takes two minutes to brush your teeth. When you start, the first tooth has your full attention. But by the time you’ve reached 1:45, you might be thinking about that board meeting you have in an hour. For more evenly-cleaned teeth, consider a new first tooth each time you brush. Leaving your toothbrush on a bathroom sink or counter. This isn’t really a brushing technique, but it can defeat an otherwise perfect routine. Your bathroom isn’t the exactly the cleanest room in your house — to avoid getting too “potty” mouthed about it — so your toothbrush is susceptible to germs if you park it there. Should you keep your toothbrush in the bathroom, at least put it in a holder where it can air-dry, and where the bristles won’t touch the germy sink or counter. Pro-tip: If you’re on vacation and using a travel bag, don’t store the toothbrush while it’s damp, as bacteria can grow on a moist toothbrush.       Two Wrong Ways to Floss   Flossing too fast. Save for not flossing at all, rushed flossing may be a worst practice, as one up-and-down between your teeth might miss some food particles and won’t get under the gumline as effectively. Stopping at the sight of blood. If your gums start to bleed, it’s probably due to inflammation from bacteria that’s gotten into them. If you stop at the sight of blood, the bacteria wins, and the inflammation could grow worse.     At this point, it may feel like there’s a whole lot wrong with the world: diseases that want to rob you of your wellness, and wrong techniques that could prevent you from fighting them. But September is self-improvement month, and there’s love at the end of the day. Here’s how you can improve your brushing and flossing techniques. Six Steps for Better Brushing   Place your toothbrush bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline Use just enough pressure to feel bristles against your gums and between teeth. Don’t squish the bristles Brush all inner and outer tooth surfaces several times, using short, circular strokes. Be sure to brush along the gumline as well Brush chewing surfaces straight on. Clean the inside surfaces of front teeth by tilting the brush vertically and making up-and-down strokes with the front of the brush Clean only one or two teeth at a time Brush your tongue, as oral bacteria can remain in taste buds   Five Steps for Flossing   Start with an 18-inch strand of floss. Wind most of it around one of your middle fingers and the rest around the same finger on your other hand Tighten floss with about an inch of floss between your hands. Glide floss between teeth with a gentle sawing motion Curve it into a C against your tooth Hold the floss against each tooth, gently scraping the tooth’s side while moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on all teeth. Don’t forget the back ones Rinse to remove any loosened plaque and food particles   For #SelfImprovementMonth this September, we’re brushing up on our brushing and flossing technique. What have you been doing to improve yourself?

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