Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Halloween Look at Fangs

As a dentist, it’s amusing to me that a key part of Halloween has to do with teeth...fangs, those sharp, pointed teeth that made Count Dracula king of the horror movies.  

Off the silver screen, and in the wild, a fang is a long, pointed tooth used to tear flesh, hold prey and even inject venom. In mammals, a fang is a canine tooth that’s used for biting and ripping apart flesh. In snakes, fangs are the vehicles through which venom is injected.  Apes also have fangs, which they use for threats and fighting.  Even spiders have fangs.  Fangs are most common in carnivores and omnivores, but some herbivores, such as fruit bats, carry them as well.

Do humans have fangs?  The answer is no.  However, humans do have canine teeth -- the third tooth on each side of the upper center, and in some people, those canines can be very sharp and pointed, almost fang-like.  But, they’re just teeth -- not fangs -- so no need to purchase garlic or wooden stakes.  Occasionally, a patient will be concerned about the appearance of “fangs,” and we can easily file them down to achieve a more normal look.   

So where did fang and vampire folklore originate?  Vampires are mythological beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (usually blood) of living creatures.  Although vampire-like creatures have been recorded in many cultures, and may even go back to prehistoric times, the term vampire became popular in the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to mass hysteria, and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism.

However, it is Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula that is the quintessential vampire novel and the basis of modern vampire fiction.  In fact, a few years ago, I visited the very spooky ruined Benedictine Whitby Abbey in Whitby, England, a small town on the North Sea, that is said to have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker.  The ruined abbey sits high atop a hill overlooking the sea, and though I know vampires aren’t real, it is definitely a place I wouldn’t want to visit after dark!

I wish all my readers a fun and safe Halloween...enjoy a scary movie -- especially one that features fangs!

If you are looking for a dentist in the Chicago area, please consider Wilmette Dental, a North Shore tradition in family dentistry for more than 30 years.   Feel free to call our office at 847-251-0085 or request an appointment online at

Monday, October 8, 2012

Scary Snacks At The Movies

Want a real horror story this Halloween?  

A trip to the concession stand at your local movie theatre may be scarier than what’s on the screen.  The sugary, sticky, buttery snacks that we crave at the movies play a big role in tooth damage, staining and decay, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).  

Here’s a look at the worst movie snacks, and some better alternatives, as recommended by the AACD:


Popcorn:  In addition to the gut-busting butter, crunching down on un-popped kernels can fracture teeth.  And, popcorn husks are notorious for lodging between back teeth and gums.  Often, they have to be removed by a dentist, and impacted husks are notorious for causing infections.

Sour Candies:  These candies are extremely high in citric, fumaric and malic acids -- all of which can seriously damage tooth enamel.

Caramels:  Caramel is super sticky, enabling it to adhere to teeth for long periods -- and that let’s harmful bacteria grow.  Worse, many a filling and crown have been lost to a sticky Milk Dud.

Fruit/Nut-based Candies:  They may seem healthy, but those Raisinets and Goobers are deceiving.  They’re loaded with sugar.

Candy-Coated Chocolates:  While not as sticky as other sweets, the colored candy shell on the outside of a classic M&M can stain teeth.

Soda:  Really a poor snack for two reasons.  First, those giant movie sodas contain a huge amount of sugar.  Second, most are highly acidic.  On the pH scale, the lower the number, the higher the level of acid.  Water is neutral at a 7...battery acid is a 1...and soda is at -- and in some cases below -- a 3!  


Dark Chocolate:  Packed with healthy antioxidants, dark chocolate is a much better alternative to milk chocolate.

Pixie Stix:  Believe it or not, these treats are better because they’re poured directly on the tongue, greatly reducing harmful exposure to teeth.

Cheese Nachos: High in fat, yes, but they’re a more reasonable choice because the sugar content isn’t over the roof, they are not acidic, and are relatively easy to chew.

Water:  Stick to water or club soda instead of a sugary, acidic soft drink. Your teeth and gums -- and body overall -- will thank you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Vote For The Best Smile !

Just in time for tomorrow’s presidential debate comes word that the brightness of political candidates’ teeth actually impacts their election success.  

In a study sponsored by the makers of an oral whitening product, researchers analyzed photos taken of past presidential candidates on the campaign trail, and concluded that there is a correlation between teeth whiteness and electability.  

The study compared the relative whiteness of past candidate’s teeth, keeping it an “even playing field” by adjusting the color of photos taken over the years to control for changes in ambient lighting and environmental conditions.  Photos going back to 1992 showed that the candidate with the whiter teeth won the election.  

When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he had a much whiter smile than incumbent President George H.W.Bush.  Clinton, of course, won -- and did the same four years later against Bob Dole, who had a less bright smile.  In 2000, George W. Bush had a smile just slightly whiter than that of Al Gore -- perhaps a portent of the narrow victory Bush would claim that November.  But, four years later, President Bush had a decidedly brighter smile than that of Sen. John Kerry.  

What’s the verdict for 2012?  At the time of the study, researchers declared President Barack Obama’s teeth to be slightly brighter than those of Mitt Romney. Of course, thanks to modern dentistry’s remarkable whitening treatments, that could change overnight -- literally -- for either candidate.