Young Adults: 18-30 years
Fizzy & Sports Drinks
Most of the soft drinks we sip throughout the day contain a large amount of sugar and all of them contain tooth-eroding acid.
Fizzy, sports and energy drinks contain acid that attacks your tooth enamel, (including the sugar-free and ‘zero’ varieties) and most contain sugar, which causes tooth decay. Every time you take a sip throughout the day, you’ll start a brand new acid attack that will last 20 minutes.
What You Can Do
Cut down the number of these drinks you have
Drink through a straw
Don’t brush your teeth for an hour after you’ve finished one of these drinks – the acid in them temporarily softens your tooth enamel and brushing too early will harm it
Don’t drink them before bed
Swish water around your mouth after each bottle or can of drink
It’s important to know the facts about tongue and lip piercings so that you can make informed decisions. In the best case scenario, soreness and swelling will be the only symptoms experienced following the piercing procedure, however in some cases, damaged teeth, excessive bleeding and infection can occur.
Tongue piercing involves a needle being inserted through the midline of the tongue to place a stud, hoop or a barbell in the tongue, and is usually done without anaesthetic. After piercing, common symptoms include swelling and pain.
Possible Side Effects
There is a risk that blood vessels can be severed in the process of piercing the tongue, which can cause excessive bleeding.
While swelling of the tongue is expected after piercing, in severe cases, it can swell significantly enough to close off the airway altogether. The resulting difficulty in breathing can be life-threatening.
If an inexperienced practitioner pierces the tongue incorrectly, nerve damage can permanently inhibit feeling and movement in the tongue. There are nerves at the back of the tongue, which if severed, could lead to permanent numbness, speech impediments and the loss of taste.
There is also a risk of infection, especially if stringent hygiene practice is not followed. Bacteria can penetrate to the inner tissue of the tongue where it has the potential to cause infections.
In the long term, tongue piercings can lead to chipped or cracked teeth, because of the continuous rubbing of the metal/plastic against teeth. Tiny cracks can form and cause severe pain and a tooth can fracture and leave the nerve exposed. Sometimes, constructing an artificial crown over the damaged tooth is the only way to save it. Injuries to the gum and cheek tissue are not uncommon either.
Lip piercing is where a ring is placed through the lip. These heal relatively quickly, although extra care must be taken during the healing process as food, smoke and liquids that come into contact with the piercing might increase the risk of infection.
Retainers on lip rings can also damage gums, and possibly damage nearby teeth. In some cases, gum grafts are required to repair an affected area. Similar to tongue piercing, nerve damage is also a possibility, affecting facial movement and the ability to feel the affected area.
Contemplating an Oral Piercing?
If you’re thinking about getting your tongue or lip pierced here are a few suggestions to make sure you get the correct procedure and ensure your mouth stays healthy once it’s in place.
Ensure the practitioner performing the piercing is experienced, is aware of your oral anatomy and uses strict infection control practices, to guard against the risk of infection or long-term nerve damage.
Seek immediate medical advice if excessive bleeding, swelling or pain occurs following a piercing.
If infection occurs seek urgent medical advice.
Once the piercing is in place, the ADA recommends visiting the dentist every six months. The dentist will be able to closely monitor the piercing and any potential damage to teeth and gums, and this will decrease the likelihood of any long-term damage.
Athletes should remove their jewellery prior to competing as piercings can be ripped from the skin accidentally.
A major problem of smoking is that it tends to disguise the damage taking place to teeth and gums. Usually infected gums are red, puffy and bleed easily when they are brushed. Smokers’ gums are not like this – they are pale and thin and do not bleed readily.
The Role of Nicotine
The nicotine in tobacco smoke is called a vaso-constrictor – it acts on blood vessels to contract them, reducing the blood flow to the gum and bone. The decreased blood supply does two things; it masks the signs of disease and also undermines the body’s ability to combat any infection.
In addition, chemicals in the smoke combined with plaque bacteria create a dangerous combination. X-rays taken of the teeth of even young smokers usually show that bone support has begun shrinking away from the tooth roots. Most of the deterioration is deep and out of sight and there are only a few early warning signs.
Nicotine also has a profound effect on the saliva, promoting the formation of the thicker ‘mucous’ form of saliva at the expense of the thinner watery ‘serous’ saliva which is instrumental in counteracting the effects of acid attack after eating. This effect of nicotine explains why some heavy smokers get decay even if they are brushing well.
Gum Disease and Loose Teeth
Smokers are six times more likely to have serious gum (periodontal) disease that can involve not just the pink gum but also the supporting bone and the membrane that holds the teeth in place. In advanced gum disease, teeth can become loose and eventually need to be extracted.
Lost important to understand is that smoking can hide the signs of gum disease for years and the condition can be very advanced before a smoker notices any damage. Slight infections around the edges of the gums are common and easily treated, but smoking allows the condition to progress more deeply and seriously.
Flossing and careful brushing tends to slow down the deterioration, but smokers often have reduced sensation in their mouths and it is difficult to detect and remove all the plaque at the gum margins.
Besides the damage to teeth and gums that smoking can cause, it still remains the single biggest risk factor in contracting oral cancer. You can read about this in the Oral Diseases section of this website where you’ll find detailed information on its causes, symptoms and early detection.
Alcohol and Binge drinking
The main threat to your teeth and gums comes from the sugar content in alcohol (including beer) which, when broken down in your mouth, creates an acidic breeding ground for bacteria and plaque.
There is also a strong clinical link between the excessive consumption of alcohol and head and neck cancers. In fact, while it can increase the risk of getting these diseases if used together with tobacco, alcohol can pose a risk in its own right.
Limiting the Damage
Most importantly, after a night out, you should brush and floss your teeth before going to bed. If you often forget to do this, leave your tooth brush on your pillow before you go out to remind you to spend a couple of minutes brushing.
While you’re drinking try to swish a mouthful of water around every so often to increase the saliva flow and rinse away sugars and acid in your mouth
On your way home, chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow and clear the mouth of harmful sugars and acid.
Drugs of all descriptions, both illegal and prescription, can cause imbalances in the oral environment that lead to dental problems. With a large number of Australians regularly taking some form of drugs, it is important to understand the potential damage they can cause and how to manage it.
Some prescribed medications can cause tooth erosion (the gradual wearing away of the outer enamel layer of your teeth) either because they are in themselves acidic or because they cause a dry mouth which means that your natural defence against acid attack (saliva) is compromised.
Chewable vitamin tablets
Frequent use of aspirin
Liquid iron supplements
Certain asthma and cough medications
Cardiovascular medications (diuretics, calcium channel blockers)
Some antidepressants and antipsychotics
Anti-Parkinson’s disease medications
This list is not exhaustive so ask your dentist to advise you if a drug you are taking could cause dental problems and how to manage that.
The regular use of illegal drugs can also cause significant tooth damage. Drugs that pose a significant risk to your oral health are:
Cannabis – This can cause dry mouth and can lead to an increased risk of gum problems. The smoke can cause oral cancer.
Cocaine – Users sometimes rub cocaine over their gums which causes ulceration of gums and the underlying bone. When cocaine mixes with saliva it creates an acidic solution which erodes tooth enamel. Cocaine and crack cocaine cause dry mouth, which further increases the risk of tooth decay. Often users will grind their teeth (bruxism) which causes the teeth to wear down.
Ecstasy – Side effects of the drug include bruxism (tooth grinding), jaw clenching and dry mouth.
Heroin – Often users can crave sweet foods, which can increase the risk of tooth decay if dental hygiene is neglected. Heroin can also cause dry mouth and bruxism (tooth grinding).
Methamphetamine – This drug causes severe and rapid tooth decay. Dental professionals have coined the term ‘meth mouth’ to describe the extensive damage typically caused by this drug. Methamphetamine is highly acidic and attacks tooth enamel. Other side effects include dry mouth, bruxism and jaw clenching.
This list covers the most commonly used illegal drugs but the many other varieties that are available will all cause similar problems. Additionally, it is common that drug users can neglect their personal hygiene, diet and dental care and this will also exacerbate the effects of the drugs that they’re taking.
It’s no secret that many people choose to engage in oral sex. Like most sex acts, there are risks you should be aware of before deciding to participate, and there are protective measures you can take to minimise the risk.
Both genital and oral sex can pass on the Human Papilloma Virus, which in can lead to oral cancer in both men and women.
The Human Papilloma Virus or HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women. It’s also the same virus that can cause oral cancer in both men and women and can be transmitted via genital and oral sex. Both men and women can be carriers of the virus. The chances of contracting HPV increase as your number of sexual partners increases, and applies to both heterosexual and same sex partners.
Not everyone who contracts the virus will end up developing oral cancer – most of the time your body’s immune system will clear it out within a couple of years.
However, US studies have shown that more than half of oral cancers diagnosed are linked to the HPV virus with the biggest growth in numbers amongst men.
With often no signs or symptoms, an HPV infection can go undetected for years and can date back to previous relationships before people settle down with a long-term partner.
What You Can Do
There is no cure for the virus itself although you can test for its presence.
The abnormalities that develop as a result of the HPV virus (for example oral cancer) can be treated if they’re detected early enough.
There is a vaccine that protects you against the four main strains of HPV but it can’t get rid of the virus once you’ve got it. If you get vaccinated after you’ve become sexually active you may already have contracted one (or more) of the HPV strains but the vaccination will protect you against the others.
Be vigilant and get your dentist to check anything that you notice has changed in your mouth that lasts longer than two weeks. It doesn’t have to be painful, just different.