From dentures to contact lenses and mouthguards, there are many accessories we put in our ears, eyes, nose or mouth to aid wellbeing. Yet could they cause problems, too? ANGELA EPSTEIN asked the experts…
MOUTH PIECES CAN CAUSE TOOTH DECAY
MANY people who’ve lost some or all their teeth end up wearing dentures — removable false teeth.
But could these cause problems of their own? When researchers at Cardiff University took mouth, tongue and denture swabs from hospital patients who had pneumonia and compared these to samples from healthy denture-wearers, they concluded that a failure to regularly clean dentures raised the risk of pneumonia, the Journal of Medical Microbiology reported last year.
The theory is dentures provide a surface where disease-causing organisms can colonise before moving to the lungs via saliva.
As London-based dentist Charles Ferber explains, the mouth provides the perfect warm and moist environment for bacteria and fungi to flourish. It’s vital, he adds, to have good oral hygiene — brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride and flossing so plaque or food debris don’t get trapped between dentures and teeth.
Ear plugs should be removed just before sleep and replaced with disposable ones after a couple of days
Similarly he advises taking dentures out and cleaning them twice a day with a designated toothbrush and a non-abrasive cleaner.
Do this over a bowl of water or towel in case you break them or drop them down the plug hole. He also suggests asking your dentist or hygienist about having dentures cleaned using their surgery’s ultrasonic cleaner (which is used to clean dental equipment).
Meanwhile, bite guards that stop night-time tooth grinding (known as bruxism) can also become a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease, as well as sore throats, nausea, flu and chest infections, says Charles Ferber.
He explains: ‘They’re usually made from acrylic which has a rough surface, so bacteria can attach easily. Run them under water and clean with a toothbrush and toothpaste.’
HEARING AIDS BREED INFECTIONS
Hearing aids worn inside the ear act as a plug, keeping out air and creating a warm and moist environment for bacterial and fungal infections to flourish in the ear canal, the tube that runs from the outer ear to the eardrum. So it’s important to take a break from wearing them, explains Professor Simon Lloyd, a consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Regular night-time use of earplugs, meanwhile, can push wax down into your ear, creating hearing problems.
‘It’s better not to block the ears for prolonged periods as the humidity goes up in the ear and it can predispose you to infections,’ says Nicholas Eynon-Lewis, a consultant ENT surgeon at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital in London.
He recommends removing them just before sleep and replacing disposable ones after a couple of days. If they get stuck, which is rare but can happen with prolonged use, they can go deep into the ear canal — and you may need to see an ENT surgeon for removal. Earbuds for music or calls worn inside the ear can pose a risk to hearing and cause tinnitus if used at high volume, due to damage to the hair cells in the inner ear.
A recent international review in the BMJ found teenagers and young people are at serious risk of hearing loss from listening to music at a volume as high as 105 decibels. The safe limits are 80 decibels for adults while it’s at 75 for children.
Prolonged use can also push wax into the ear and cause blockage, a common cause of temporary hearing loss. And because of the moist, damp airless environment caused by ‘plugging the ear’ they can lead to an ear infection. Clean earbuds by using an alcohol wipe.
Sleeping with contact lenses in place can the increase eye infection risk eight-fold
LENSES LINKED TO SIGHT LOSS
Contact lenses float on a thin film of tears on the cornea — the transparent front portion of the eye. Good hygiene is critical to prevent serious problems. A 2022 study by Moorfields Eye Hospital in London found that people who wore reusable contact lenses (changed monthly, typically made from silicone hydrogel) were nearly four times as likely as those wearing daily disposables (also made from silicone hydrogel) to develop acanthamoeba keratitis — a painful infection of the cornea which can lead to sight loss.
It occurs because of exposure to amoeba found in water sources such as swimming pools and tap water.
‘Never use tap water to clean reusable lenses, only use sterile saline solution,’ explains Jeff Kwartz, a consultant ophthalmologist at Royal Bolton Hospital.
‘I have seen cases which have led to severe scarring, blindness, corneal transplant and even the removal of the eye.’
There is also a risk of a corneal abrasion — a scratch to the eye with your nail, when putting in or taking out lenses.
And according to a 2018 study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., sleeping with contact lenses in place can increase eye infection risk eight-fold. ‘The safest way to use contact lenses is through a daily disposable,’ adds Mr Kwartz.
SNORING DEVICE AND NOSEBLEEDS
Around 40 per cent of adults in the UK snore when they sleep.
One solution is using a nasal dilator — a small flexible plastic device placed into the nose to hold open the nostrils, making it easier to breathe.
Mr Eynon-Lewis says: ‘But be aware not to force them too far up the nose as it could cause nosebleeds and inflammation.’