Five Holiday Treats that May Lead to Ho-Ho-Holes in Your Teeth

The old adage “too much of a good thing” is never more true than during the holiday season. There tends to be an overabundance of everything – especially sweet treats. While it’s impractical to suggest complete avoidance of holiday goodies, Delta Dental encourages moderation to make sure you receive the gift of great oral health!

Here are five common treats to limit during the holidays:

1.      Candy Canes: The problem with candy canes is the prolonged amount of time that they linger as you slowly dissolve them in your mouth. Not to mention, the temptation to chomp them, which can lead to cracks or chips in your teeth. Consume them quickly and carefully to limit their negative oral health impact.

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2.      Christmas Cookies: It’s tempting to overindulge when there’s an abundance of baked goods – like Christmas cookies – laying around. But cookies are laden with sugar and can do significant damage to your pearly whites. Of course, we know suggesting skipping cookies entirely is impractical. Just enjoy them in moderation.

3.      Holiday Drinks (such as eggnog, apple cider and hot chocolate): Festive beverages offer more than warm, holiday cheer – eggnog boasts over 20 grams of sugar per cup,1 while hot cider can pack over 65 grams of sugar when dolled up with caramel sauce and whipped cream.2 Stick to one small serving of your favorite drink and wash away some of the sticky sugar residue with a glass of water.

4.      Caramels: Chewy, sticky treats such as grandma’s famous homemade caramels are particularly damaging because they are not only high in sugar, but they spend a prolonged amount of time stuck to teeth and are more difficult for saliva to break down. The same rule applies to all those sparkly gumdrops on your gingerbread house.

5.      Fruitcake: Even though it’s the butt of many holiday jokes, some people actually eat the fruitcake that gets passed around at the holidays. Oral health reasons to avoid it include the sugary cake base and the chewy, candied fruit that stud it throughout.

Cookies, candy and sweet holiday beverages all have at least one main ingredient in common: sugar, whose negative effect on teeth has been well-documented. Why is sugar so bad for your teeth? It mixes with bacteria in the sticky plaque that constantly forms on teeth to produce acid that attacks tooth enamel. The stickiness of that plaque keeps those harmful acids against the teeth, which contributes to tooth decay.

“No one wants to be the Grinch about enjoying all the special experiences of the holidays, particularly the tasty treats that are usually around,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, Delta Dental Plans Association’s vice president for dental science and policy. “Try to enjoy in moderation, and if you find yourself overindulging, perhaps spend some extra time flossing and brushing at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.”

When you do indulge your holiday sweet tooth, it’s best to enjoy goodies as part of, or immediately following a meal, rather than snacking on treats throughout the day. Another good tip to is to stick to one small serving of your favorite drink or snack and to follow up by swishing around some water, chew sugar-free gum, or brush soon after finishing to wash away some of the sticky sugar residue.

1USDA. Basic Food Report: Eggnog. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/55/2

2MyFitnessPal. http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/starbucks-grande-caramel-apple-spice-cider-with-whip-61966862

The Best and Worst Halloween Treats for Teeth

Little ghosts and goblins will trick-or-treat to collect as much candy as they can this Halloween, but it’s not just kids who will enjoy the treats. Nearly 80 percent of parents admit they eat their children’s Halloween candy, according to the Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey.1 But some candies have the potential to do more damage to teeth than others.

The best way to protect teeth from decay is to have candy in small portions at limited times, such as after a meal, as dessert or at regular snack times. Nearly 90 percent of parents say their kids consume Halloween candy this way.Choose candy that melts and disappears quickly. The longer teeth are exposed to sugar, the longer bacteria can feed on it, which could produce cavity-causing acid.

While no sweets are good for teeth, some are less harmful than others. We rated the best and worst treats for teeth on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least harmful.

  1. Sugar-free candy and gum with xylitol                                                                   Sugar-free foods don’t contain sugar that can feed on the bacteria in the mouth and produce decay-causing acids. Gum and candy with xylitol may actually protect teeth by reducing the acids produced by bacteria and increasing saliva to rinse away excess sugars and acids.
  • Our survey says 44 percent of kids eat sugar-free candy at Halloween.1
  1. Powdery candy (such as sugar straws)                                                                     Sure, powdery candy is packed with pure sugar. But powdery candy dissolves quickly and doesn’t stick to the teeth.
  1. Chocolate (such as candy bars)                                                                             Chocolate dissolves quickly in the mouth and can be eaten easily, which decreases the amount of time sugar stays in contact with teeth. And calcium could help protect tooth enamel. However, chocolate with fillings, such as caramel and nuts, is a lot more harmful for teeth than the plain variety.
  • Our survey says 86 percent of kids eat chocolate at Halloween. 1
  1. Hard candy (such as lollipops or mints)                                                                     Hard candy is tough on teeth because it tends to be sucked on at a leisurely pace for an extended period of time. Plus, chomping down on hard candy can chip or break teeth.
  • Our survey says 50 percent of kids eat hard candy at Halloween. 1
  1. Chewy candy (such as caramels or gummies)                                                         Chewy, sticky treats are particularly damaging because they are high in sugar, spend a prolonged amount of time stuck to teeth and are more difficult for saliva to break down.
  • Our survey says 57 percent of kids eat chewy candy at Halloween. 1

Another way to protect teeth is to give kids something other than candy.  Nearly 25 percent of parents hand out non-candy items to trick-or-treaters, such as toys, money or fruit.1

For additional tips on how to help keep children’s teeth healthy during Halloween and all year long, visit the Tooth Fairy’s Halloween website at www.toothfairytrickytreats.com.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Are Sports Drinks as Harmful to Kids’ Teeth as Soda?

While kids play sports in the summer heat, they will be tempted to gulp down large sugary sports and energy drinks to stay cool. Swigging too many of these beverages, however, can harm a child’s teeth. Delta Dental advises parents to monitor and limit the number of these beverages their children are consuming to help prevent cavities.

Young athletes do need to replace fluids, carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes after hard exercise. But the high sugar and highly acidic content of sports drinks can increase a child’s susceptibility to tooth decay and enamel erosion if too much is consumed.

Like soda, energy and sports drinks contain high levels of acidity and high concentrations of sugar. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 12 ounces of a leading brand of cola and a leading brand of energy drink each contained 42 grams of sugar, while a leading sports drink contained 21 grams of sugar.1 According to a University of Iowa study, a leading sports drink had the greatest erosion potential on both enamel and roots of teeth when compared to leading brands of energy drinks, soda and apple juice.2

Sugar itself doesn’t rot teeth, but rather, the acid that is produced when sugar mixes with certain bacteria in the mouth. Decay forms around the parts of the tooth where the plaque accumulates. The high acid from the drinks themselves can also have an erosive effect on the whole surface of the tooth. Sugary, acidic drinks are particularly damaging when they are sipped frequently throughout the day because they spend a prolonged amount of time washed over the teeth.

Instead of buying the 32 or 64 ounce bottles of sports drink, limit kids to a single 12 to16 ounce bottle. Encourage kids to consume as much water as they do sports drink. Drinking water will help them stay hydrated during outdoor activities and make sure any residual sports drink doesn’t linger on their teeth. Another option is to dilute the sports drink with water to lower the concentration of acidity and sugar. If your kids find water boring, consider adding slices of orange, lemon or cucumber to make it more appealing. Interestingly enough, recent studies suggest that low-fat chocolate milk may be as good as a sports drink at promoting recovery between workouts.3

1 Harvard School of Public Health. How Sweet Is It? Accessed June 2012.http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/how-sweet-is-it/index.html

2 University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Acidic Beverages Increase the Risk of In Vitro Tooth Erosion. Accessed June 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2516950/

3 Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD.  Building a beverage for recovery from endurance activity: a review. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov;25(11):3198-204.

Sip Sparingly for Your Oral Health

Binge drinking may be frequently celebrated in pop culture and joked about on social media, but during Alcohol Awareness Month, Delta Dental warns consumers that alcohol abuse can be extremely harmful to oral health.

April is also Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and heavy alcohol consumption is one of the major risk factors for oral cancer. It is estimated that in 2013 there will be more than 36,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed in the United States, and about 17 people will die from this disease every day.1 In addition, certain popular adult beverages – such as Long Island Ice Teas, piña coladas and energy drink-and-vodka concoctions – contain large amounts of sugar, which causes tooth decay, while others (like red wine) can stain teeth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that other short-term risks of binge drinking include car crashes, violence (including child abuse), risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy. Long-term risks include liver disease, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking means drinking to the point that one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels reach 0.08g/dL.2 For women, this usually occurs after about four drinks in two hours, and for men, after about five. By the CDC’s definition (four or more adult beverages in one sitting), more than one in eight women binge drink and twice as many men binge drink as women do.3

Not surprisingly, the age group with the most binge drinkers is 18-34 adults. However, this cultural problem extends beyond college kids and twentysomethings. According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of all adults in the U.S. (more than 38 million) binge drink about four times per month. Drinking to excess causes 80,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.3

Drinking, like most other things, is best done in moderation for both your oral and overall health. For example, drinking the occasional glass of red wine (which contain heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol) may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol and helping prevent clogging of arteries.4

1 American Cancer Society. Oral Cavity and Oropharngeal Cancer.  Accessed March 2013. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/oralcavityandoropharyngealcancer/detailedguide/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer-key-statistics

2 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH). Moderate & Binge Drinking. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking. Accessed March 2013.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge Drinking. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/bingedrinking/. Accessed March 2013.

4 Wu JM, Hsieh TC.  Resveratrol: a cardioprotective substance. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Jan;1215:16-21. 

The Tooth Fairy Loosened Her Purse Strings in 2012

How much are kids getting for lost baby teeth these days? The average gift from the Tooth Fairy was $2.42 last year, up 32 cents from $2.10 in 2011, according to The Original Tooth Fairy Poll® sponsored by Delta Dental.1 The most common amount left under the pillow was $1 (51 percent).

According to the poll, the Tooth Fairy was even more generous with kids who lost their first tooth, leaving more money for the first tooth in 46 percent of homes. On average, the amount given for the first tooth was $3.49.

Leaving gifts from the Tooth Fairy is a great way to help make losing teeth less scary and enjoyable for kids. Delta Dental encourages parents to use the Tooth Fairy as an opportunity to talk about good oral health even before a child loses the first tooth. Caring for baby teeth is important, as they help children chew and speak properly and hold space for permanent teeth.

In 2012, the Tooth Fairy visited nearly 90 percent of U.S. homes with children who lost a tooth. Delta Dental suggests the following ways parents can use the Tooth Fairy as a teachable moment:

• Introduce the Tooth Fairy early on. Kids will start losing baby teeth around age 6. Before this age, parents can teach kids about the Tooth Fairy and let them know that good oral health habits and healthy teeth make her happy. Use this as an opportunity to brush up on a child’s everyday dental routine. Kids not wanting to brush and floss? Remind them the Tooth Fairy is more generous for healthy baby teeth, not teeth with cavities. This will help get kids excited about taking care of their teeth.

• Leave a note reinforcing good habits. A personalized note from the Tooth Fairy could be nearly as exciting for kids as the gift itself. Parents should include tips for important oral health habits that the Tooth Fairy wants kids to practice, such as brushing twice a day, flossing once a day and visiting the dentist twice a year. And, of course, parents should give the Tooth Fairy a special name. After all, Flossie or Twinkle is a bit more exciting than just Tooth Fairy!

• Give oral health gifts. Although the Tooth Fairy left cash for kids in 98 percent of homes she visited, two percent of children received toys, candy, gum or other gifts. Consider forgoing cash and providing oral health gifts instead, like a new toothbrush or fun-flavored toothpaste. For readers, there are numerous children’s books about Tooth Fairy adventures in bookstores or online. The days of jamming a tiny tooth underneath a huge pillow and making the Tooth Fairy blindly grope around under a heavy sleeping head are gone. Special pillows with tiny, tooth-sized pockets attached are now available online, with themes ranging from princesses to ninjas and beyond. Some of the pillows can even be customized with your little gap-toothed child’s name. Or if a parent, er, ahem, the Tooth Fairy, is feeling generous, kids could receive both cash and a new toothbrush.

For more information, visit http://www.theoriginaltoothfairypoll.com. To get a sense of the taste and style choices of the Tooth Fairy and for some fun ideas, parents can follow her on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/origtoothfairy.

Wearing the Wires: Kids and Braces

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Once upon a time, kids who wore braces were teased by their peers with mean-spirited nicknames such as brace face, tinsel teeth, zipper lips and metal mouth. These days, however, braces have become seemingly as ubiquitous as eyeglasses, almost a rite of passage for American youth in their formative years. Studies have estimated anywhere from 50-70 percent of American children will wear braces between the ages of 6-18.

Children from ages 6-18 (and even some adults) typically get braces to correct malocclusions (i.e., bad bites). These jaw or tooth alignment problems are usually genetic, but can result from an injury, early or late tooth loss or thumb-sucking.1 Historically, most children started wearing braces in their early- and into mid-adolescent years, after all of their permanent teeth had erupted (ages 11-15), but in more recent years there has been a trend towards earlier intervention to take advantage of high rates of growth and to correct certain conditions that might otherwise adversely affect growth and development. Crowded, poorly-positioned teeth not only affect a child’s appearance, but can negatively impact the way a child bites, chews and speaks, and can increase the long-term potential for developing periodontal disease or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems.1

Whether or not they have braces, kids should always eat a healthy diet. In general, however, kids with braces should avoid foods that are difficult to bite off or chew, that may damage the braces, or that are difficult to clean from around the wires and attachment brackets. Foods like popcorn, corn on the cob, whole apples, sunflower seeds and sticky candy fall into these categories. It is also not a good idea to chew on ice, pencils or any other oral habits that can bend the wires or otherwise damage the appliances that go into moving teeth into proper position.2 Eating too many sticky and sugary foods is particularly damaging to children with braces, since plaque tends to build-up around the appliances and can lead to decay where the brackets are attached to the teeth.

Standard oral health care best practices apply to all children – with or without braces. This includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, wearing a properly fitting mouthguard during contact sports, and making regular dental visits. Obviously brushing and flossing presents some challenges while wearing braces but the child’s dental team will usually provide the proper guidance on facing the challenges to good oral hygiene that wearing braces can present. This may include things like using fluoride rinses, floss threaders, interproximal cleaners, powered brushes or irrigators, dental wax and other tips for keeping the braces and teeth clean and wearing them comfortably.

A child’s teeth are often sore for a day or two after the braces are first put on or after an adjustment appointment. In addition, other typical problems that children may have to deal with include food caught between the teeth and appliance, one or more of the little rubber bands break that hold the wires to the bracket, a wire breaks and pokes into the cheek, a sore develops on the cheek or gum where something is rubbing.

1.American Dental Association. “Braces” http://www.mouthhealthy.org/az-topics/b/braces.aspx
2.American Dental Association 2010 Survey of Dental Practice
3.American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/faq

New Survey: Kids Need Brushing up on Oral Health

Although cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable, more than one out of four American caregivers reported that their children had a cavity filled in the past year. This was among the findings of a new survey1 of nearly 1,000 caregivers released today by Delta Dental in conjunction with National Children’s Dental Health Month. Among children who had a cavity in the past year, 53 percent had two or more cavities.

The 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey shows that not only are Americans unaware they can pass cavity-causing bacteria to children, but they also need to brush up on some critical children’s dental health habits, including basics such as brushing and flossing.

Parents and caregivers need to teach good oral health habits to children at a young age to help prevent cavities. Baby teeth are very important. They 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.

These are some of the oral health habits that fall short of what’s recommended by dental professionals:

• Survey shows: Seventy-five percent of caregivers say they share utensils such as a spoon, fork, or glass with a child.
• Delta Dental recommends: Parents and caregivers should eliminate saliva-transferring behaviors – such as sharing utensils and toothbrushes and cleaning a pacifier with their mouths – all activities which can pass harmful bacterial to a child.

• Survey shows: Forty-nine percent of Americans with a child four years or younger report that the child sometimes takes a nap or goes to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice.
• Delta Dental recommends: Parents and caregivers should not put a child to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, sweetened water or soft drinks, which can lead to baby bottle decay. Instead, caregivers should fill the bottle with water.

• Survey shows: For children who have visited the dentist, the average age at the first visit was 3 years old.
• Delta Dental recommends: Children should first visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday.

• Survey shows: Only 58 percent of children had their teeth brushed twice a day and 34 percent of children brush for less than two minutes.
• Delta Dental recommends: Children’s teeth should be brushed twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Parents should assist with this task until the kids are about 6 years old.

• Survey shows: Forty-three percent of parents or caregivers report that their children’s teeth are never flossed, and of children whose teeth are flossed, only 23 percent are flossed daily.
• Delta Dental recommends: Once any two teeth are touching, caregivers should floss, or help the child floss, once a day.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.