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Good Dental Health for Life

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 50% of children by middle childhood and nearly 70% by late adolescence.  According to the CDC, untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth while 13% of adolescents have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Dental hygiene habits and genetics affect dental health in later years as well.  Eighty percent of the US population has some form of periodontal gum disease.  In addition, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) reports that almost 250 million people or about 40% of the adult population in Europe,  USA, and Japan are estimated to suffer some form of edentulousness, or loss of natural teeth.  While the prevalence of both partial and total tooth loss in seniors is down compared to the 1970s, the numbers are still quite high.  Seniors over the age of 65 have lost an average of 13 teeth and 26% have no remaining teeth.  Good dental hygiene not only helps an individual keep his or her teeth but is also good for overall health.  The ADHA recommends the following tips for good dental hygiene:

Child Dental Hygiene

  • Parents should clean the infant’s baby teeth as soon as they come in with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

  • Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle, unless it is filled with water.  Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when children fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula, juice, or other sweet liquid.  

  • At age two or three, start to teach your child proper brushing and flossing techniques.  You will need to monitor brushing and flossing until age 7 or 8 when the child will finally have the dexterity to do it alone.

  • When a child’s permanent molars come in (usually around ages 6 and 12), consider having sealants applied.  Sealants are thin protective plastic coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth.

  • Mouth guards should be worn for all contact sports and any extreme sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, and rollerblading.  Start this practice in childhood and continue through adulthood.

Parents should clean the infant’s baby teeth as soon as they come in with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle, unless it is filled with water.  Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when children fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula, juice, or other sweet liquid.  

At age two or three, start to teach your child proper brushing and flossing techniques.  You will need to monitor brushing and flossing until age 7 or 8 when the child will finally have the dexterity to do it alone.

When a child’s permanent molars come in (usually around ages 6 and 12), consider having sealants applied.  Sealants are thin protective plastic coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth.

Mouth guards should be worn for all contact sports and any extreme sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, and rollerblading.  Start this practice in childhood and continue through adulthood.

Some Special Concerns for Adolescents

  • Dental complications are associated with oral piercings, tattoos, and decorative grills.  It is important to visit the dentist and discuss possible “mouth art” risks and complications before the adolescent (or adult) pursues it.

  • Piercings that do not use surgical grade stainless steel jewelry can cause either infections or allergic reactions in the mouth.  Piercings can also cause erosion of the teeth and gums.   Mouth piercings should be cleaned after every meal as they can harbor bacteria.

  • Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating can cause complications such as tooth enamel erosion, dental cavities, enlargement of saliva glands, sensitive teeth, fungal or bacterial infections, dry mouth, and trauma to the roof of the mouth.

  • Smoking’s oral effects include bad breath, stained teeth, loss of taste and smell, canker sores, oral cancer, gum recession, bone loss and tooth loss associated with gum disease.

  • Soda typically contains phosphoric acid and large amounts of sugar; both are detrimental to oral health.  Sugar causes cavities and because all sodas contain phosphoric acid, even diet soda drinkers are at risk for weakened teeth.  The phosphoric acid interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, essential for strong teeth and bones.

Dental complications are associated with oral piercings, tattoos, and decorative grills.  It is important to visit the dentist and discuss possible “mouth art” risks and complications before the adolescent (or adult) pursues it.

Piercings that do not use surgical grade stainless steel jewelry can cause either infections or allergic reactions in the mouth.  Piercings can also cause erosion of the teeth and gums.   Mouth piercings should be cleaned after every meal as they can harbor bacteria.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating can cause complications such as tooth enamel erosion, dental cavities, enlargement of saliva glands, sensitive teeth, fungal or bacterial infections, dry mouth, and trauma to the roof of the mouth.

Smoking’s oral effects include bad breath, stained teeth, loss of taste and smell, canker sores, oral cancer, gum recession, bone loss and tooth loss associated with gum disease.

Soda typically contains phosphoric acid and large amounts of sugar; both are detrimental to oral health.  Sugar causes cavities and because all sodas contain phosphoric acid, even diet soda drinkers are at risk for weakened teeth.  The phosphoric acid interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, essential for strong teeth and bones.

Brushing Basics from the American Dental Association

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. When you brush, don't rush. Take time to do a thorough job.

  • Use the proper equipment. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably. Consider using an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, which can reduce plaque and a mild form of gum disease (gingivitis) more than does manual brushing. These devices are also helpful if you have arthritis or other dexterity problems.

  • Practice good technique. Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle — aiming the bristles toward the area where your tooth meets your gum. Gently brush with short back-and-forth motions. Remember to brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue.

  • Keep your equipment clean. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position and allow it to air-dry until using it again. Don't routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast.

  • Know when to replace your toothbrush. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed or when someone has been ill with an infection or virus.

  • Floss twice daily. If you find it hard to handle floss, use an interdental cleaner — such as a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, tiny brushes that reach between teeth, a water flosser or wooden or silicone plaque remover.

Brush your teeth twice a day. When you brush, don't rush. Take time to do a thorough job.

Use the proper equipment. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably. Consider using an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, which can reduce plaque and a mild form of gum disease (gingivitis) more than does manual brushing. These devices are also helpful if you have arthritis or other dexterity problems.

Practice good technique. Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle — aiming the bristles toward the area where your tooth meets your gum. Gently brush with short back-and-forth motions. Remember to brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue.

Keep your equipment clean. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position and allow it to air-dry until using it again. Don't routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast.

Know when to replace your toothbrush. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed or when someone has been ill with an infection or virus.

Floss twice daily. If you find it hard to handle floss, use an interdental cleaner — such as a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, tiny brushes that reach between teeth, a water flosser or wooden or silicone plaque remover.

For more information on dental hygiene, visit the American Dental Hygienists’ Association website at:  www.adha.org  or the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/index.html

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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