Chewing gum may help keep teeth in good shape

MEDICAL MATTERS

Sugarless varieties wash teeth without adding calories, risk of decay

July 21, 2006|By JUDY FOREMAN

Is chewing gum good for you?

The sugarless kind is, at least as far as your teeth are concerned.

Chewing gum, either sugar-free or sugary, "causes us to salivate, and saliva has tremendously beneficial effects," said Dr. Matthew Messina a dentist in Cleveland who is a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. Saliva "is a buffering solution. It washes the teeth."

Sugary chewing gum is not a good idea, though. Sugar causes bacteria in the mouth to secrete acid, which dissolves tooth enamel, causing cavities. "So if you chew sugared gum, you still get the increased saliva flow - but you are defeating the benefit because you have the sugar," Messina said.

If you have TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, problems, chewing gum, either sugary or sugar-free, may be detrimental because you should be trying to reduce muscle tension in the jaw, not increase it.

As for the rest of the body?

Sugary gum contains calories that you may not need. Sugarless gum containing sorbitol can cause diarrhea and bloating, said Dr. David Metz, associate chief of the Gastrointestinal Division for Clinical Affairs at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association.

Is there any way to fix earlobes that have become elongated or split from heavy earrings?

Yes, and most dermatologic surgeons can do the procedure in about a half-hour in the office. The going rate is about $325 per hour.

If the hole in a pierced ear is very big and elongated, the surgeon, after numbing the earlobe with lidocaine, may actually create a complete slit, so that the earlobe hangs down in two pie-shaped pieces.

In traditional surgery, the surgeon sutures the two flaps together with absorbable stitches, which dissolve over time, said Dr. Lawrence Green, a spokesman for the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery who practices in Rockville.

In a new variant of the procedure, the surgeon uses nonabsorbable sutures made of a material called Prolene to hold the flaps together, according to Dr. Steven Greenbaum, director of the Skin and Laser Surgery Center of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a professor of dermatology at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Because the material is not absorbed, it becomes a kind of permanent scaffolding that strengthens the earlobe, said Greenbaum, who has published details of his method in the journal Dermatologic Surgery. Greenbaum said the new procedure reduces the risk of future tearing of the earlobe.

With either procedure, the doctors said, the earlobe can be re-pierced after it has fully healed, which takes about three months. Like most cosmetic procedures, this one is not typically covered by insurance.

To find a local dermatologic surgeon who can do the procedure, search the surgical society's Web site at asds.net.

Send your questions to foreman@baltsun.com.

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