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Sink your teeth into health
Health advice
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During a recent political debate, I spent more time checking out teeth than listening to what was said. One commentator had obviously recently received an ultra-ultra-deluxe whitening treatment making the choppers of others on the screen appear dingy.
Once I got started, I commented (to the irritation of my husband) on who had smoked, missed braces or sought extensive dental work. One young man in particular appeared to have neglected his teeth since childhood. Was it his fault or his parents?
National Children's Dental Health Month is celebrated each February and is usually brought into full swing by "Give Kids A Smile" on the first Friday in February. "Give Kids A Smile" is designed to provide education, preventive and restorative care to low-income children who do not have access to care. NCDHM focuses on all children regardless of their economic status.
In addition to neat puzzles and games with preventive health messages, parents are targeted and strongly encouraged to assist their children in developing healthy dental habits that will prevent tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss. Unfortunately, these are lessons many adults never learned and therefore can't teach.
The mouth is like a window into the health of the body and can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or infections when other signs or symptoms are missed. Systemic diseases such as diabetes or AIDS are often detected because of mouth lesions or other oral problems.
Parents, please note that the American Dental Association recommends the following for good oral hygiene:
• Brush your teeth twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won't do a good job cleaning teeth.
• Clean between teeth daily with floss or an inter-dental cleaner. Decay-causing bacteria still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can't reach. This helps remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.
• Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks. If you or your child craves a snack, choose nutritious foods and consider chewing sugarless gum afterward. Sugarless gum increases saliva flow and helps wash out food and decay-producing acid.
• Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and oral exams. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove tartar.
Studies have shown that using a fluoride mouth rinse as well as fluoride toothpaste can provide extra protection against tooth decay. Fluoride mouth rinse, however, is not recommended for children age 6 or younger because they may swallow the rinse.
Antimicrobial mouth rinses and toothpastes are effective in reducing bacterial count and inhibiting bacterial activity in dental plaque, which causes gingivitis (an early, reversible gum disease). ADA-Accepted antimicrobial mouth rinses and toothpastes have proven these claims by demonstrating significant reductions in plaque and gingivitis.
If you have a "sweet tooth," ADA suggests you consume sugary foods with meals because saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth. You should also drink more water since consuming optimally fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. Check your bottled water for its fluoride content and let that influence selections.
Make an appointment to see your dentist if you note any of the following:
• Gums that bleed during brushing and flossing;
red, swollen or tender gums;
• Gums that have pulled away from your teeth;
• Persistent bad breath;
• Pus between your teeth and gums;
• Loose or separating teeth;
• A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite; and
• A change in the fit of partial dentures

Ratcliffe works for the Coastal Health District.
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