A Grizzly’s Guide to a Healthier YOU: Dr. Roy Elturk discusses the importance of good oral health


Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Abdelmessih

Campus Editor and Columnist, Gabrielle Abdelmessih.

Oral health is an important component of overall health. I spoke to Dr. Roy Elturk, who earned his undergraduate and Doctor in Dental Surgery from the University of Detroit Mercy and completed a residency program at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Dr. Eltrurk is the owner of Bright Side Dental – Southfield, and is a general dentist who has been practicing for over fourteen years.

Q: What are the major considerations that college students should be aware of when it comes to oral health?

A: First and foremost, when it does to your oral health, there are definitely some behaviors that increase the risk for oral cancers. The obvious things to avoid are tobacco products, alcohol, and vape products. HPV is also a consideration when it comes to oral cancers, so it is important to practice safe sex and certainly HPV vaccination is a plus.

Q: Can you elaborate more on the consumption of alcohol tobacco and vape products and their role in the increased risk for oral cancers?

A: Certainly alcohol and tobacco individually can increase the risk for some oral cancers. However, it had been found that when it comes to alcohol and tobacco, 1+1 does not necessarily equal 2. The combined use of alcohol and tobacco products sharply raises the potential for oral cancers to arise much more than each of those products do individually. And although there is limited research on the effects of vaping on the oral cavity, I’ve personally seen significant increase in dental caries (Editor’s Note: Cavities) and inflammatory lesions in the soft tissues of the mouth.

Q: We all know that sugar is bad for your teeth, but can you describe the reason why?

A: What most people don’t realize, is that dental caries is basically an infectious disease. The bacteria that causes cavities is transmitted from one person to another through saliva. Usually, this transmission takes place at a very early age between parent/caregiver and child. Streptococcus mutans is the main bacteria involved in the formation of cavities. It “eats” sugar and releases acid as its waste product. Once the bacteria becomes part of your normal microbial flora, it doesn’t leave. But, you can take a three-pronged approach to control it. First and foremost, brushing and flossing prevents these bacteria from forming layers on your teeth which can greatly increase the amount of acid produced, therefore pitting the tooth and causing a cavity. Secondarily, you can starve the bacteria by limiting the duration of time that it is in contact with sugar in your mouth. It takes approximately 12 minutes for the bacteria to create enough acid to lower the pH of your mouth once in contact with sugar, It is important to limit the time that sugar is in contact with your teeth. A few years back, the American Dental Association came up with an ad slogan, “Sip all day, get decay,” and it really is accurate. Finally, one can take steps to harden tooth structure and make it more resilient to the effects of acid production. As an adult, this takes place primarily through exposure to topical fluoride. Most people get this through fluoridated toothpaste. However, there are several over-the-counter fluoridated mouth rinses that can also aid in the protection of your teeth. In severe cases, your dentist may prescribe a higher florid content toothpaste as needed.

Q: My dentist often says the mouth is the window to systemic health. How is that so?

A: Surprisingly, many systemic and serious diseases have their first signs and symptoms in the oral cavity. Some cancers, diabetes, and digestive conditions, in their formative stages, can lead to bad breath. There’s also a very strong link between periodontal disease, an inflammatory disease of the gum and supporting tissues, with heart disease. While some of these conditions have a genetic component to them, there are certainly some steps that should be taken to help promote an overall decrease in inflammation in the mouth. Routine dental care is a must, in addition to a strident home care regimen. Ideally, you should brush for 2 minutes three times daily, and floss once a day.

Q: Are there any over-the-counter products that one should avoid?

A: Contrary to Dr. TikTok, the use of charcoal as a tooth whitening agent should be avoided. As with all other health and beauty products, there is no FDA regulation for the safety and efficacy of these products. The abrasive nature of these products may in fact whiten your teeth but at the expense of removing protective enamel—which does not regenerate. Once you lose it, it’s gone forever.

Q: How has the pandemic affected people’s oral health?

A: On a basic level, during the mandated shutdown, people weren’t able to receive routine, elective care, which has led to more serious issues. Also, the stress of what we’ve all endured has led many more people to clench and grind their teeth subconsciously, also known as bruxism. In my practice, I have seen many more signs of wear and fractured teeth in these last two years than I have ever seen previously. Your dentist will be able to notice these signs at your routine examination visits and may recommend a bite guard to help prevent this condition.

Q: Is there anything else you think college students should know about their oral health?

A: College can be a stressful, difficult time. It certainly was for me. The important thing to remember is that the teeth you have in college, are the teeth you are designed to have for the rest of your life. Treat them well when you’re young, and they will treat you well when you’re old. Drink lots of water, minimize the duration of time that sugar is in contact with your teeth, (That’s for all the coffee and soda connoisseurs), and brush and floss regularly.