One of the many reasons kids love summer so much is the increased availability of sugary treats. Ice pops, ice cream, frozen yogurt, candy, bubble gum and soda taste especially good in hot weather when you have been running around outside.
Unfortunately, these treats can accelerate tooth decay if kids are not careful to brush and floss and use fluoride rinse. Even medicines that kids may use regularly have a lot of sugar, which can contribute to dental disease. Diet soda is also bad for teeth due to its acidic pH, even though it does not contain sugar.
We don’t think much about our teeth unless there is a problem, but teeth are truly essential for good health. Dental care and prevention of tooth decay have made tremendous strides in the last century, especially when we remember that the No. 1 reason men were not accepted into the armed forces in World War II was poor dental health. Gum disease, called periodontal disease, may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), diabetes, unfavorable pregnancy outcomes and cancers of the lung, bladder, mouth, esophagus, kidney, stomach and liver.
It is hard to imagine how gum disease can affect the body in so many ways, but new theories suggest that tooth surfaces get colonized with anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen-consuming) instead of aerobic bacteria (oxygen-consuming) as plaques progressively form. Some anaerobic bacteria make toxins, substances that can destroy cells in the body. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the gums and then cause inflammation as the body mounts an immune response. Bacteria from the mouth are known to cause infection in other body parts, such as heart valves or artificial joints.
Good oral hygiene begins with proper tooth brushing with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Teeth should be brushed twice a day with a soft-bristled brush for about two minutes, and flossing is also recommended daily. Regular dental visits every six to 12 months are essential to maintain good dental health. Children should start seeing a dentist at age 1, and adults should continue to help their children brush their teeth until they can tie their own shoes (between ages 6 and 8).
Fluoride toothpaste can be used in young children under 3 if the amount is very small, such as a rice-sized smear on the toothbrush. Fluoride rinses are helpful to prevent cavities in kids, but should not be started until about age 6 due to the risk of swallowing the rinse. Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months.
People with medical problems such as diabetes need to take extra care of their teeth. Some medications decrease saliva and can increase risk of cavities. The include anti-seizure or anti-allergy medications, high blood pressure medications, cholesterol-lowering medications and antidepressants. If you have a dry mouth, you can use over the counter oral moisturizers, and drink more water.
Chemotherapy for cancer and some diseases like HIV decreases immune system function and can lead to plaque formation due to bacteria in the mouth. Smoking is very detrimental to oral health due to decreased blood circulation in the mouth, and other negative effects causing tooth and bone loss.
People in Kodiak are great at smiling at each other as they pass by. Let’s remember to care for our teeth so that we can continue to be a healthy, friendly, and welcoming community.
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14).