Before Your Due Date, Schedule a Date With a Dentist’s Office

Most pregnant women recognize how important their own overall health is for their baby’s health, but may ignore a critical component – their oral health. In fact, a survey of American children’s oral health conducted on behalf of Delta Dental found that nearly 4 out of 10 American mothers neglect to visit a dentist during pregnancy, which is significant to helping prevent harmful oral and overall health problems for themselves and their babies. Dentists can identify and treat teeth and gum problems, lowering the risk for more serious, ongoing health problems for both a mother and her baby.

While having a healthy mouth is always important, pregnancy can intensify dental problems. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can exaggerate the way gum tissue reacts to plaque, increasing the risk for gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal (gum) disease. Some studies have suggested that pregnant women with moderate-to-severe gum disease may be more at risk to give birth to low-weight or pre-term babies, who are at risk for many serious diseases.

Dental hygiene habits are controllable, but some pregnancy side effects may wreak havoc on a woman’s oral health. For instance, nausea and vomiting affect 80 percent of all pregnant women.2 The stomach acid from vomiting can erode tooth enamel – making teeth sensitive and more vulnerable to decay. A woman may also feel less willing to follow her usual pattern of regular brushing and flossing.

Most moms-to-be also experience cravings. The additional snacking can lead to increased tooth decay. Giving into cravings for sugary foods can be worse for expectant mothers’ teeth, since sugar is a major cause of tooth decay.

Along with visiting the dentist, Delta Dental offers the following tips to help prevent oral health complications during pregnancy:

• Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once daily.
• Limit foods containing sugar to mealtime only. If you do indulge one of those cravings, drink a glass of water while snacking and brush your teeth once you’re done.
• Choose water or low-fat milk to drink and avoid carbonated beverages.
• Opt for fruit rather than fruit juice to meet the recommended daily fruit intake.
• If you suffer from “morning sickness,” rinse your mouth out with water and baking soda solution afterward. The combination will neutralize the acid. Also brush your teeth gently and if you chew gum, use the kind with xylitol as the main sweetener.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2011 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted by email nationally with 907 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.25 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2 American Academy of Family Physicians, Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy, 2003.

Delta Dental Encourages Major League Baseball to Quit the Spit (Tobacco)

While smokeless tobacco has not been completely banished from baseball, Delta Dental applauds Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week for making a positive step toward completely eliminating tobacco’s visibility from impressionable young fans. Under a recent agreement, MLB players, managers and coaches will no longer be able to carry a smokeless tobacco tin or package in their uniforms during games or when fans are in stadiums. Additionally, they will be prohibited from “chewing” during televised interviews, at autograph signings and other fan events.

Smokeless tobacco has been banned from Minor League Baseball since 1993 and from collegiate athletics since 1994. The surge of support for an outright ban on smokeless tobacco has a website, and players like Boston Red Sox outfielder Adrian Gonzalez and Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks have recorded public service announcements speaking out against smokeless tobacco. Joe Garagiola, an 84-year-old former tobacco chewing-MLB catcher and current broadcaster, is the chairman of NSTEP, the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. NSTEP is a 17-year-old program operated by Oral Health America that educates baseball players of all ages about the dangers of chewing or “spit” tobacco.

The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 39,000 people were diagnosed with oral cancer and nearly 8,000 people died of the disease in 2011, and that men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed.Tobacco use is considered a major risk factor for the development of oral cancers. Whether they like it or not, athletes serve as role models for impressionable children and teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Study found that more than 11 percent of male high school students and four percent of male middle school students were current smokeless tobacco users.2 Though smokeless tobacco has been banned in all venues by the NCAA and MILB, a significant number of young players get hooked on the habit earlier in life.

Delta Dental puts its support and resources behind this message. Delta Dental of Tennessee, for instance, leveraged their sponsorship with the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) to present Oral Cancer Awareness Night at AutoZone Park. The event included oral cancer screenings performed by teachers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry.

Delta Dental wants the professional baseball community to be aware of the inherent risks and dangers of smokeless tobacco use, and the influence that the actions of professional baseball players have on their youthful fans. We ask that – for their own health and that of their young fans – players pause next time before throwing in a dip. We applaud the progress that MLB has made in limiting tobacco use in the sport but would support a complete ban on smokeless tobacco during games when so many young fans are watching attentively.

Below is a video in which Dr. Kohn explores the relationship between smokeless tobacco use and oral cancer.

1 American Cancer Society. Oral Cancer Fact Sheet. Accessed February 2012. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/document/oralcancerpdf.pdf

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2000–2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2010;59(33):1063–8

The Toothbrush: From Horsehair to Heroes

Even our ancient ancestors – primitive though they were – recognized the need for good dental hygiene. At least that’s what archeologists believe the chewed frayed ends of aromatic twigs from early times indicate.1

The first bristled toothbrushes didn’t appear until around the year 1,000 in China, when people fashioned together a crude tool using an ivory handle with tufts of horsehair. Five hundred years later, the Chinese introduced a bone or bamboo-handle with bristles from the back of a boar’s neck. 2 The “modern” toothbrush debuted in 1938, when a Frenchman named Dupont de Nemours introduced a nylon bristle called Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrush. 2 The National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore has amassed quite a collection of such old-school devices and other dental memorabilia.

Of course, dental hygiene’s main tool has come a long way since the Ming Dynasty. These days, toothbrushes have smooth, polished, soft-ended and flexible nylon bristles in various configurations designed to get under the gums and between the teeth. Some offer streamlined plastic handles with rubberized gripping surfaces, action character handles for kids, timers to help you brush an appropriate length of time, LCD screens with smiley faces to encourage optimal brushing, and even tiny speakers to play music. Battery-powered toothbrushes have also evolved and may offer ultrasonic and ionic abilities, as well as oscillating and rotating brushes to mimic the best brushing technique.

Replace your toothbrush every three to six months or even earlier if the bristles start to look bent and splayed apart. Children or adults who scrub too aggressively or chew on the bristles will need to replace their brush more often. The more expensive powered models usually have replacement heads for purchase whereas the cheaper models may not.  Clean your toothbrush thoroughly under running tap water after each use, and store upright and away from other brushes so it dries out between uses.

Golfers often say “it is more the golfer than the club” that determines how good the score is. It’s the same in toothbrushing – it’s more the brusher than the brush itself that determines how well the job is done and if disease is prevented. Even the most basic manual toothbrush will work well if it is picked up and used properly.

Whether you are using a manual or battery-powered toothbrush, the most important thing is that people brush their teeth twice daily (morning and night), taking proper time (about two minutes) to cover the entire surface of every tooth. Brush gently but thoroughly and make sure to reach below the gumline and between the teeth. Take your time. Brushing harder or more aggressively for a shorter period of time doesn’t help and may actually damage the gums or tooth surface.1  Finally, always remember that for most people brushing alone isn’t adequate to prevent tooth decay caused by the sticky, bacteria-laden, acid-producing plaque that is constantly forming on the teeth. Fluoride is currently our best tool for preventing tooth decay, so always use a fluoride containing toothpaste.

Whether manual or battery-powered, the toothbrush is the best vehicle to both remove plaque and deliver fluoride to the teeth at least twice a day. So pick up that toothbrush! One of the keys to good oral health is in your hands.

1 Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.

2 Mandel ID The Plaque Fighters: Choosing a Weapon. Journal of the American Dental Association 1993; April 124(4); pages 71-74

3 Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/tooth.html. Accessed Feb. 2012.

Top 5 Reasons Why Early Dental Visits are Important

Most American children don’t see their family dentist until they are over 3 years old, far later than is recommended by both dental and medical professionals.

That’s one of the key findings from a survey of American children’s oral health, [1] conducted on behalf of Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA), the nation’s leading dental benefits provider.

The survey revealed that for those children ages 1 to 11 that had seen a dentist, the average age at the initial visit was 3.1 years.  The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts. [2] Almost half of children under age 3 in this survey had never been to the dentist.

Tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable. So it’s important to begin good oral health habits, like visiting the dentist, at a young age. Studies show that early preventive dental care such as check-ups and cleanings can save in future dental treatment costs.

Among children who have never visited the dentist or who have not seen a dentist in the past 12 months, the most mentioned reason (52 percent) was that “the child is too young” or “doesn’t have enough teeth yet.” Lack of insurance coverage was cited by 16 percent of the caregivers.

What to Expect at Your Child’s First Visit

During a typical first visit, the dentist will:

  • Examine your child’s teeth for early signs of decay, but will also look for problems with the baby’s head, neck, jaws, skin and soft tissues in and around the mouth like the tongue, cheeks and lips. Your child’s bite, facial growth and development will also be assessed.
  • Demonstrate various tooth brushing and flossing techniques and positions to help parents care for their baby’s teeth properly.
  • Discuss diet and feeding/snacking practices that may put the child at risk for decay.
  • Address the use of topical fluoride.
  • Provide information about trauma prevention.

[1] Morpace Inc. conducted the 2011 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted by email nationally with 907 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.25 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

[2] American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry – Policy on the Dental Home. http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_DentalHome.pdf

Top 7 Reasons Why a Baby’s Oral Health Care Should Begin at Birth

Most American caregivers don’t realize that cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable, according to a survey of American children’s oral health by Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA).1 Tooth decay can develop any time after the teeth erupt into the mouth starting at about 6 months of age. So, it’s important to establish good oral health habits from birth to ward off cavity-causing bacteria.

Caregivers might think that caring for their child’s baby teeth is unimportant because they will eventually fall out. But baby teeth help children chew and speak properly, and hold space for permanent teeth. If a child has healthy baby teeth, chances are he or she will have healthy adult teeth, too.

Before the first tooth erupts, caregivers should wipe their baby’s gums with a damp washcloth or soft infant toothbrush after meals to help keep bacteria levels low and maintain a clean home for new teeth. According to the survey, while almost three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) knew that it’s important to clean a baby’s gums with a soft cloth before the teeth surface, 28 percent reported never actually cleaning their baby’s gums.

Nearly one out of five caregivers (17 percent) with a child 4 years old or younger report that he or she goes to bed every night with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice. It’s a mistake to put a child to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, sweetened water or soda, however, because the frequent exposure to sugar can lead to severe tooth decay – often called baby bottle decay. Instead, caregivers should fill the bottle with water.

Here are some additional steps you can take to ensure your little one has a healthy smile through childhood and into adulthood.

  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes, bottles, spoons and straws to protect your baby from the transfer of cavity-causing bacteria.
  • As soon as the first tooth erupts, begin brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and water at least once a day, preferably before bedtime. Once any two of your child’s teeth are touching, it’s time to start flossing once a day.
  • Within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday – your baby should have his or her first dental visit.
  • By the time your child is 2 (or by the time he or she can spit), start using a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste. Train your child to spit out the toothpaste and rinse afterward and help your child brush properly twice a day.
  • You should help brush and floss (or at least supervise) until age 7 or 8 or until your child can properly care for his or her teeth alone.

 1Morpace Inc. conducted the 2011 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted by email nationally with 907 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.25 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Mouthguards are a Must

The leaves have fallen and winter is here. With the change in season, contact sports like basketball, wrestling and hockey have taken center stage.

These sports pose a risk of injury to the mouths of kids. Contrary to recommendations by dentists, however, most American children don’t wear mouthguards while playing such activities. That’s one of the key findings from a survey1 of American children’s oral health conducted earlier this year by Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA).

Although mouthguards are only mandatory for some youth sports, such as ice hockey, football and lacrosse, dental professionals recommend they be worn for all athletic activities where there is a strong potential for contact with other participants or hard surfaces.

But nearly seven out of 10 Americans (68 percent) report that their child does not wear a mouthguard at soccer, basketball, baseball and softball practices or games. And some studies show that today’s basketball players are about 5 times more likely to sustain an orofacial injury than football players.2-3

Only about four out of 10 (44 percent) say that their child wears a mouthguard for hockey practice and games, which is mandatory. Even more alarming, nearly two out of 10 children (22 percent) only wear a mouthguard at games, not practice. According to Safe Kids USA, most organized sports-related injuries occur during practice rather than games.3 DDPA advises kids playing contact sports to wear mouthguards during practices and games.

There are multiple options to consider when purchasing a mouthguard for a child.

  • Stock mouthguards are relatively inexpensive and have a pre-formed shape. But since the fit can’t be adjusted, they’re less effective than a fitted option.
  • Mouth-formed mouthguards can be purchased at many sporting goods stores, and can be molded to the individual’s mouth, usually by boiling the mouthguard in hot water to soften the plastic.
  • Custom-made mouthguards are considered the best option but are the most expensive. Since they’re made by your dentist from a mold of your teeth, they fit tightly and correctly.

Still, if cost is a factor, any mouthguard is better than none at all.

1Morpace Inc. conducted the 2011 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted by email nationally with 907 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.25 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2Cohenca N, Roges RA, Roges R. The incidence and severity of dental trauma in intercollegiate athletes. J Am Dent Assoc. 2007 Aug;138(8):1121-6.

3Labella CR, Smith BW, Sigurdsson A. Effect of mouthguards on dental injuries and concussions in college basketball. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jan;34(1):41-4.


Top 5 Teeth-Friendly Stocking Stuffers

As parents begin buying stocking stuffers this Christmas season, Delta Dental has a few suggestions for items that will make kids (and their dentists) smile while protecting those precious pearly whites.

  1. Xylitol-sweetened Chewing Gum: Sure, everyone loves some good peanut brittle around the holidays. But there is a sweet treat that can also improve children’s oral health. If brushing with fluoride toothpaste isn’t practical, chewing sugar-free gum after a meal stimulates saliva to buffer the acid and helps dislodge food particles from the mouth. Gum containing the natural sweetener, Xylitol, is a particularly good option since studies have shown that consistent exposure to Xylitol can help prevent tooth decay.
  2. Flavored Toothpaste: Children can tire of brushing with mint or bubblegum-flavored toothpastes. Fortunately, those aren’t the only toothpaste options on the market. Uniquely-flavored toothpaste varieties like bacon, chocolate, cupcake, ice cream– even pickle – can provide a change of pace and get kids excited again about the prospect of brushing their teeth. Always make sure the toothpaste contains fluoride to fight tooth decay.
  3. Flavored Floss: No oral hygiene routine is complete without flossing after brushing. Floss is normally pretty plain, but it doesn’t have to be. Like toothpaste, there is bacon, cupcake or pickled-flavored floss to match. If those flavors don’t do the trick, there are also mint, banana and cinnamon-flavored options for kids to enjoy.
  4. Fun Toothbrush Holder/Toothbrush: Another way to get children brushing is by stuffing the stocking with fun oral health gifts like robot, tree or animal-shaped toothbrush holders that stick to walls. Kids like the characters and the holder provides a valuable and sanitary storage spot for their toothbrushes and toothpaste. There, the kids can place their toothbrush with a princess, race car or superhero-shaped handle. There are even battery-powered “smart” toothbrushes that light up or play tunes to let kids know how long they need to brush.
  5. Sports Mouthguard: A recent study of America’s children’s oral health by Delta Dental1 found that 70 percent of kids do not wear a mouthguard during soccer, basketball or baseball/softball practices or games.  Mouthguards should be worn during practices and games by kids playing contact sports to reduce the risk of injury to the mouth, teeth and gums. The quality of the mouthguard should be the primary concern. There are a number of options at sporting goods stores including off-the-shelf sized and boil in water and mold into place. The ones that are custom fit by a dentist are the best. There are plenty of fun colors and designs available to coordinate with a uniform of any color.