October 27, 2009 in Features

Trick to Halloween is brushing

Dr. Alisa Hideg
 

Halloween is Saturday and that means candy, candy, candy. I have fond memories of chocolate, caramel apples, popcorn balls and candy corn.

As an adult I indulge in a few of these treats this time of year – for nostalgia, if nothing else. Only now I limit the amounts and make sure I brush and floss my teeth after eating sweets.

We all know why we brush and floss: to prevent cavities and bad breath. But did you know there is a connection between bad oral health and heart disease, diabetes, dementia and autoimmune diseases?

One possible reason is that inflammation from periodontal disease (swollen, red or tender gums around teeth) increases inflammation throughout your body, which increases the risk of other illnesses.

If you have gum disease, you may be twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease. Pregnant women with periodontal disease may be up to seven times more likely to have a premature, underweight baby.

Diabetics often develop periodontal disease, which can increase blood sugar levels and complications.

There is much more to be learned about how dental health and these illnesses are connected, but if doing something as simple as brushing and flossing your teeth could keep you healthier, why not make a point to do so?

Of course, having pearly whites looks nice, too.

A friend of mine who is a dentist carries her toothpaste and toothbrush everywhere. I cannot quite make that commitment, but I did get into the habit of carrying sugar-free gum containing xylitol when I was in school. Chewing this kind of gum after meals has been shown to reduce the risk of dental decay.

Inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases may start in childhood. Children get into the habit of brushing their teeth if you start as soon as they have teeth.

Toddlers need a soft child’s toothbrush and fluoride-free toothpaste. Because very young children are likely to swallow toothpaste, do not switch to fluoride toothpaste until they know how to spit.

However, young children do need some fluoride – which is just an element like calcium. Fluoride makes the enamel of the teeth stronger just like calcium makes bones stronger.

Spokane-area children usually need daily fluoride supplements starting at the age of 6 months since we do not have fluoride in our public water supply. Children need fluoride supplements or treatments until all of their permanent teeth come in.

If the taste of toothpaste seems to be a stumbling block for your children, try a different flavor. There are many flavors for kids’ toothpaste: strawberry, bubble gum, bubble fruit, orange-mango, the list goes on.

If some of those flavors sound good to you, take heart, because fluoride toothpastes other than mint are not just for kids anymore. How about fennel, cinnamint or lemon-lime?

You might have to scan the shelves a bit or even shop online, but you can get your hands on them if you look around.

Good flossing habits are just like good brushing habits; the sooner we all get into the habit of flossing, the better. There are a number of products available for cleaning between teeth: floss holders, tiny brushes, even floss with fluoride on it.

I have always been good about brushing my teeth, but flossing definitely was my downfall. I started flossing more in medical school when I realized I had irritated gums and started learning about what that may do to my body. Now I make an concerted effort to floss every day.

My personal trick is to keep dental floss in the shower, my purse, my desk drawer and other places to remind me to do it. As my dentist friend says, “Only floss those teeth you want to keep!”

Of course you also want to see your dentist at least once a year for a cleaning and check-up. If you do not have dental insurance, there are a number of options in the Spokane area including the EWU dental hygiene school, ABCD dental program for children and the Community Health Clinics.

After all, it is not just your teeth you are keeping healthy – it is your whole body.

Now give us a big smile, say “trick or treat!” and show us those pearly whites.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Veradale Medical Center in Spokane Valley. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to drhideg@ghc.org.

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