We’re very happy to bring you to first installment of our new guest blogging series, “How-To Tour.” In each blog, an artist will give other artists advice, on a specific topic, to make sure you have a great touring experience. This blog was written by Mark Lassiter. He is a full time dentist and musician on the side, who has been called in for emergency dental work for some huge names, including: Aerosmith and Barack Obama. You can check out his blog about keeping a healthy smile while on tour, after the break.
“It takes three things to make a dental problem: (1) a tooth, (2) a strain of bacteria and (3) something for the bacteria to eat. Dentists call the food a ‘substrate.’ The favorite substrate of the the bacteria that cause cavities? Why sugar of course. Not just refined sugars, but starch too. Why do you care? Because being on the road as a musician, you can do several things to minimize potential dental and oral health problems that could curb one or more shows. Don’t underestimate the severity of this issue. It could cost around $2,000 to completely restore a molar that was destroyed by a cavity involving the nerve. That is for ONE TOOTH! As a dentist/musician (and lover of sugars of all types), I would like to list a few things that make make your life easier, and prevent a potential disaster on the road.
Here is a typical exchange in my office. Hygienist: ‘Do you floss?’ Patient: (hesitantly) ‘Yeeessss?’ Hygienist: ‘How often?’ Patient: ‘About once a week when I get something caught between my teeth.’ Yeah, I get it. Flossing is like eating right, taking your vitamins and regular exercise. It makes sense, but it’s ever so hard to implement, but here’s the deal: Flossing is preventative because it removes plaque, not food. Plaque is the hungry mass of bacteria that sticks to your teeth after you eat. THAT is what you are removing when you brush and floss. The bacteria colony releases acid that dissolves your enamel, causes your gums to bleed and makes your breath stink. Brushing is great but it only does half the job. Preventing cavities is good because they hurt and are expensive to treat. So, in a word: FLOSS!
Interfering with the triad of tooth, bacterium and substrate is the key to prevention. So I am going to assume that you have your teeth. So, that leaves your ability to reduce the substrate, or sugar, available for bacteria. Avoid sugary soft drinks, sticky candy and high starch foods such as potato chips. I realize that I just listed the “on the road” menu. It’s not that I am saying you have to eliminate sugar completely, but minimize your exposure time to it. At Chapel Hill, they used to tell us to assume that you are consuming a fixed quantity of sugar, say a 12 ounce soft drink. It is better from a cavity prevention standpoint to drink it over a short period than to sip on it all day. Reducing the contact time reduces the risk of cavities, irrespective of the amount. Oh yeah, and you still need to BRUSH AND FLOSS!
If you are on the road and need emergency assistance, I recommend calling a local dentist who is a member of the American Dental Association. Try to go BEFORE you are in pain. Dentistry can be much more conservative and less expensive if problems don’t involve the nerve of the tooth. Even if you are on the road, I recommend a dental cleaning and exam twice a year whether it’s back at your home base or on the road. This can head a great deal of major problems off at the pass, minimizing upfront money and loss of work, not to mention days of discomfort. If you can’t afford this and you are a musician who has been on 6 commercially released recordings and can show proof of need, the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) philanthropy MusiCares may be able to help. The miracle of this organization is that you do not even have to belong to the NARAS, although I recommend it.
I hope this little sort-of-scientific blog helped open some understanding about your role in preventing dental disease. This becomes really important on the road where you don’t have the convenience of your regular dentist and little time for dental problems. Stock up on floss, an ADA certified toothpaste, eat a diet conscious of limiting your sugar contact time and take advantage of resources such as MusiCares on the road. My best wishes on your music career and healthy smiles!”