Trick or Treat and take care of your teeth
10/20/2021 by Katie King, APRN, C.N.P., M.S.N.
As Halloween, along with its candy and other sugary treats, approaches, it's important to reflect on the importance of oral health.
Sugar left on the teeth helps feed the bacteria that lead to dental cavities and gum disease. For children, cavities can lead to pain, infections and complications that can cause missed school days and missed work for parents.
Starting with the first tooth, parents can help their children by brushing their teeth twice a day with fluorinated toothpaste. Once teeth touch, flossing once daily can help remove those sugar bugs, too.
For children under 3, use just a smear of fluorinated toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Once 3 or older, increase the amount to a pea size. Usually young children need assistance with brushing their teeth until age 8, when their dexterity allows them to adequately cover all of their teeth using a toothbrush. Smartphone apps such as Toothsavers, Disney Magic Timer and Tiny Dentist can encourage your children to brush their teeth, too.
Other steps to promote dental health in kids are:
- Ensure your child visits a pediatric dentist around 1 year of age or once teeth emerge.
- If you have well water, call your county and ask about water testing to check the fluoride content of your drinking water. Fluoride can naturally occur in well water. If the fluoride concentration is less than 0.7 parts per million, ask your primary care provider about receiving fluoride supplements. Fluoride also can be applied to your child's teeth during well-child exams. This is recommended two to four times per year for all children under 5.
- Brush your child's teeth twice a day. If possible, brush after any sugary treats.
- Limit or avoid sticky candies like fruit snacks that can adhere to teeth. These types of candies promote cavities by sticking to teeth.
- Encourage water between meals and avoid sugary drinks, such as soda and juice.
Developing good oral care in childhood leads to good habits throughout the life span.
Pearly whites are important in pregnancy, too. While dental care is not often thought about when considering pregnancy, good dental care before and during pregnancy is important.
Pregnancy hormones can increase the chances of periodontal disease, or inflammation of the tissues and structures that support the teeth. Inflammation can cause infections, which can lead to dental decay, tooth loss and bone infection if left untreated. Periodontal disease in mothers has been associated with low birth weights for babies and preeclampsia.
It is safe to receive dental care during all trimesters of pregnancy. Receiving good dental care during this time is critical to prevent periodontal disease, tooth pain and tooth loss. If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, and do not have a dentist, it is best to establish with one as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the risk for periodontal disease increases with age. While you can't control your age, you can take measures to reduce your risk of periodontal disease. Poor dental care can lead to pain, infections and nutritional difficulties later in life. Periodontal disease is associated with worsening diabetic blood sugar control and heart disease.
Dental hygiene for all ages
The mouth is home to billions of bacteria that thrive on sugar. Like other parts of the body, bacteria need to be kept in balance to prevent dental disease. The mouth has some natural mechanisms to maintain this balance, including the production of saliva, which neutralizes the acid produced by the bacteria and helps clean off food particles from teeth. Medical conditions and medications that cause dry mouth and reduce saliva production can increase a person's risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Strategies to treat dry mouth include:
- Take frequent sips of water though the day and stay well-hydrated.
- Chew sugar-free gum.
- Use over-the-counter artificial saliva products.
Keys to prevent dental difficulties include:
- Brushing teeth twice daily and flossing once daily.
- Treating dry mouth.
- Adhering to routine dental cleanings.
- Avoiding frequent snacking.
- Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, instead choosing water to stay hydrated.
- Brushing your teeth, or at a minimum rinsing your mouth with water, if you indulge in a sticky, sweet treat.
- Avoiding all tobacco use — smoking, chewing and vaping.
Oral health is critical to overall health throughout the life span. Remember that adults can set an example for children by practicing good oral hygiene.
Have a happy and tooth-friendly Halloween.
Katie King, APRN, C.N.P., M.S.N., is a nurse practitioner in Family Medicine at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast in Rochester. She has an interest in preventive care services and agrees with Ben Franklin that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Katie enjoys being outside with her family and forward motion in the forms of cycling, jogging, walking and hiking.