Use the Tooth Fairy as a teaching tool

In 2013, the Tooth Fairy visited 86 percent of U.S. homes with children who lost a tooth. What kid doesn’t love a magical fairy that leaves goodies beneath their pillow? This built-in goodwill towards and interest in the Tooth Fairy opens the door for parents to use this little lady as a teaching tool when it comes to the importance of oral health.

In honor of National Tooth Fairy Day (February 28) here are a few suggestions for ways to use the Tooth Fairy to teach kids about good dental health habits:

  • 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 that the Tooth Fairy is only looking 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. In fact, we’ve created some sample letters to get you started!
  • Give oral health gifts. Although the Tooth Fairy left cash for kids in 99 percent of homes she visited, a few children received toys, gum or other gifts. Consider forgoing cash and reinforce good oral health habits by providing a new toothbrush with their favorite cartoon character or fun-flavored toothpaste. How about a new book? There are several children’s books about Tooth Fairy adventures that can add to the Tooth Fairy excitement. Also gone are the days of worrying about not being able to find the tiny tooth under your child’s pillow in the middle of the night. Special Tooth Fairy pillows with tiny, tooth-sized pockets attached are now available in many themes and can even be customized with your child’s name. But if the family tradition has always included money, you don’t have to stop. Consider giving both cash and a new toothbrush to reinforce good oral health habits.

DDPA Tooth Fairy 2013 Poll Infographic web 2014For more information and ways to make your child’s Tooth Fairy experience extra special, visit www.theoriginaltoothfairypoll.com

Delta Dental Offers Alternative Approach to Resolutions

Failure to keep New Year’s resolutions is so commonplace these days that it has become an easy punch line for many derisive jokes. Studies have found only eight percent of people actually keep their resolutions annually. Conversely, one out of four people have never successfully kept a New Year’s resolution.

Maybe the problem is how you think of these resolutions, and simply changing your mindset might help. In 2014, take a cue from the 2007 movie The Bucket List, and put together a list of things that you must do before the year ends.

We at Delta Dental suggest you consider including some oral health-related items in your bucket list. Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, DDPA’s vice president of dental science and policy, has a few time-honored suggestions:

  • Brush/floss regularly: Commit to brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time. Simple tools like egg timers or mobile apps can help you keep track of the time. If you never, ever floss, pledge to do so more frequently (starting with once a week and increasing to once a day).
  • Easy on the sweets: Limit your consumption of sugary snacks because the more times teeth are exposed to sugar, the longer acids have time to attack tooth enamel – and expedite tooth decay!
  • Kick butts: Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of severe gum disease in the U.S., so do yourself a favor and quit using tobacco products. Your teeth, gums and lungs will thank you.

Fill your bucket list with things that will make you happy and healthy, provide some adventure, and encourage personal growth. The length of your list doesn’t matter, but you should write it down and refer to it regularly throughout the year. Keep it simple and try to do at least one thing on your list each month.

An appointment with your dentist should be at the top of any healthy checklist. Like most things that we value and want to keep working properly, a regular dental check-up and some preventive maintenance goes a long way towards maintaining long-term, disease-free oral health.

Delta Dental sends you our best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

Sealants Critical to Children’s Oral Health

Sealants are plastic coatings that protect those difficult to reach pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of the teeth from the bacteria that cause tooth decay. A quick and painless procedure done in your dentist’s office, sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces of permanent molars as soon as possible after they fully erupt in the mouth, usually between the ages of six to eight for first molars and 10 to 12 for second molars. While sealants are not necessary for all children, they are particularly beneficial to children who are at higher risk for tooth decay. But, how do you know if your child is at higher risk?Although overall oral health risk is a combination of genetics, personal habits and diet, history of decay is a good predictor for future risk of decay. Your child is considered to be at higher risk if he or she has had a cavity filled in the past three years. The good news is you may be able to help prevent future cavities by making sure your child receives preventive care, including having sealants applied to first and second molars.

Although approximately 60 to 70 percent of cavities can be prevented by placing
sealants on children’s teeth, a recent study by Delta Dental shows that 60 percent of
children age 6 to 9 who are at higher risk of tooth decay did not receive sealants on
their first molars, and 80 percent of children age 11 to 15 did not receive sealants on
their second molars.1

Sealants Graphic

These figures are particularly striking when you realize that many dental plans cover preventive care, like sealants, at as much at 100 percent of the cost. As a parent, you want your child to be as healthy as possible, and that includes protecting their teeth. Delta Dental is here to help. Our myDentalScore risk assessment tool helps you better assess your child’s risk for oral disease by providing an easy to understand oral health scores report that you can use to consult with your dentist to determine the best treatment patterns for your child’s oral health needs. We also encourage you to take a look at your dental plan and make sure you are using preventive treatments to their full advantage – most are simple, painless and inexpensive. They can save your child from future pain and discomfort that often accompany cavities, and save you from paying for expensive fillings, crowns, or root canals.

To learn more about keeping all of the mouths in your life healthy, and to access the myDentalScore risk assessment tool, visit Delta Dental’s Oral Health Library at oralhealth.deltadental.com.

The Silent Signs of Gum Disease

Diabetes is a pervasive problem in America, a cultural epidemic with wide-ranging and potentially severe consequences. According to the 2011 National Diabetes Factsheet, 25.8 million people or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes at an estimated annual total cost of about $245 billion. 1

November is National Diabetes Month and Delta Dental wants to remind people of the well-documented connection between diabetes and oral health. 2 People with diabetes tend to develop periodontal (gum) disease earlier in life, and more severely. Though it is often painless, Delta Dental cautions people suffering from diabetes to be mindful of its warning signs. These can include bad breath, bleeding gums after brushing or flossing, red, swollen or tender gums, or changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite. Unfortunately, many people ignore those periodontal red flags until it’s too late.3

Individuals often ignore the warning signs of periodontal disease because there is usually no pain involved. So they will brush a little better to get rid of the bleeding or use mouthwash to hide their bad breath. The best idea is to schedule regular visits to your dentist to make sure that you are not developing periodontal disease.

Maintaining regular dental visits is particularly critical for patients suffering from diabetes.Oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease are often reversible if they are diagnosed and treated early. Dentists can also check for other common mouth conditions that afflict people with diabetes such as dry mouth, ulcers and infections. Periodontal disease and other mouth conditions may also be a sign that other medical conditions exist elsewhere in the body. Depending on their findings, the dentist might advise patients to seek a medical consultation.

Even before visiting the dentist, patients can use an online risk assessment tool (such as Delta Dental’s myDentalScore) to answer a series of questions that can gauge their risk levels for gum disease, oral cancer and other serious oral health problems. Additional lifestyle best practices for people with diabetes include controlling blood sugar, brushing and flossing daily, and quitting smoking.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2011.pdf.

2 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Diabetes and Oral Health. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/Diabetes/default.htm

3American Diabetes Association. 2013  Diabetes Facts.   http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/

ACA’s Exchanges Offer Opportunity to Improve Dental Health

As the Affordable Care Act’s Exchanges begin to enroll people across the country, a seemingly minor provision in the law is bound to make a big difference in combating the most widespread disease children experience today: tooth decay.Federal legislators wanted to tackle this issue head-on, and saw fit to make children’s dental coverage one of the ten essential health benefits for people getting coverage on the Exchanges.

There are many options for new customers purchasing dental benefits for their kids on the Exchanges. Consumers will now be able to choose from stand-alone dental plans, which is the way dental benefits have traditionally been provided, and from health plans with dental coverage wrapped up inside.

In fact, besides health plans covering major medical benefits, stand-alone dental plans are the only other type of coverage that can be sold on the Affordable Care Act’s Exchanges. Our goal is to help parents get access to great coverage so they can get their kids to the dentist for the care they need. Delta Dental member companies are offering children’s plans in most of states across the country in 2014, with more offering coverage in their states in 2015.

Parents will be able to shop for dental coverage not only for their children, but also for themselves. Family plans can be sold on most Exchanges as long as the pediatric coverage is also included in the plan. Recent studies show that parents with dental plans go to the dentist.2 And when they do, they are likely to bring their children. Ultimately, we hope that Delta Dental and other carriers can do their part to reduce dental disease across the country.

1 Oral Health in America; A Report of the Surgeon General (Executive Summary). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/datastatistics/surgeongeneral/report/executivesummary.htm 

2007 NADP Consumer Survey. National Association of Dental Plans. http://www.ineeddentalbenefits.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/nadpemployerwhitepaper.pdf

Don’t Let Meds Desert Older Adults

Novelist C. S. Lewis once wrote, “How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.” Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about four out of every five older adults suffer from a chronic condition, and half have at least two.1

Often, those chronic conditions are treated with a variety of prescription medications. During National Healthy Aging Month, Delta Dental, the nation’s largest dental benefits provider, cautions older adults to guard against a dangerous side effect of more than 400 prescribed and over-the-counter medications – dry mouth.2

As it is medically defined, dry mouth is the result of a reduction of salivary output or quality. But dry mouth is more than just irritating and mildly uncomfortable; it can also increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease and other oral infections. Many medications that treat chronic illnesses – such as hay fever, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and depression – are known to have dry mouth as a side effect.3

The New York Times recently attributed the dry mouth that results from many prescription medications as a major contributor to the rapidly deteriorating oral health of nursing home residents.4 The American Dental Association (ADA) has even advocated for warning-label information on these types of “xerogenic” medications to promote awareness of the potential oral health complications associated with drug-induced dry mouth.3 According to the ADA, chronic dry mouth is a common adverse effect for each of the following medication groups:3

  • Cardiovascular medications (such as diuretics or calcium channel blockers)
  • Anticholinergic agents for treatment of urinary incontinence (e.g., oxybutynin and tolterodine)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline)
  • Anti-psychotic agents (e.g., chlorpromazine)
  • Anti-Parkinson’s medications (e.g., benzatropine)
  • Anti-allergy medications (e.g., antihistamines)

If your mouth becomes dry after taking a medication, you may want to mention it to your physician. Sometimes, an equally effective substitute medication can be prescribed that does not have the same side effect. To help you maintain good oral health and stimulate saliva, your dentist might suggest sipping water or sucking on ice chips frequently, avoiding alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products, chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Aging at a Glance (2011). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/aging.htm

 2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2000.

3 Warning Label Information on Medications Associated with Xerostomia (Dry Mouth). American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/newsAndEvents/pdfs/ltr_dry_mouth_110427.pdf

4 Nursing Homes’ Dental Problems. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/08/05/health/100000002374631/nursing-homes-dental-problems.html?smid=tw-share

“Dry Mouth.” National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, March 20, 2010. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth Accessed 2010.

How to Handle Tooth Trauma

As children head back to school, it is important to remember that dental emergencies can happen any time, any place. According to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey,1 one out of 10 children ages 10 or 11 have had a tooth emergency such as a knocked-out tooth, chipped tooth or a loosened permanent tooth at home or at school.

A knocked-out permanent tooth is a true dental emergency, and there’s a good chance it can be saved if you know what to do and act quickly. The primary concern should be getting the child in to see a dentist. Time is crucial if you want the dentist to be able to reinsert and salvage the natural tooth. Ideally, a child needs to be seen within 30 minutes of the accident.1

Whether a tooth is knocked out at school or home, here are several steps to ensure it is saved – or at least in optimal condition – by the time the child can see the dentist.

  • First, check to make sure the child doesn’t have a serious head, neck or other orofacial injury (i.e., a concussion, broken jaw, etc.).
  • Don’t worry about replacing a displaced baby tooth. Trying to reinsert it could damage the permanent pearly white coming in behind it.
  • To avoid infection, the tooth should be held by the crown, not the root. The crown is the part of the tooth visible to the naked eye. You want to leave the root intact, and touching it with bare hands could pass bacteria.2
  • Rinse any debris off of the tooth under room temperature water. Don’t scrub the root! Once the tooth is free of loose dirt and debris, try to reinsert it, asking the child to hold it in place using a piece of gauze if necessary. 3
  • If the tooth cannot be successfully reinserted, it needs to stay moist until the child can visit a dentist. Store the tooth in a clean container and cover it with milk or room temperature water to prevent it from drying out. 4 These liquids aren’t ideal but are often the only ones readily available. If you are a school nurse or your child frequently plays contact sports, purchase an emergency bag  handy with a save-a-tooth kit in it (available at most drugstores.) These contain a solution that is better at preserving any live cells on the tooth root until the dentist can put the tooth back into the socket.

In most cases, tooth injuries are not life threatening. But they can have long-lasting effects on the child’s appearance and self-confidence, so it is important to act quickly in the event of a dental emergency.

1Morpace 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 error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2“Saving a Knocked-Out Tooth.” American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/patients/patientinfo/references/avulsed.htm. Accessed 2010.

3 “Medical Encyclopedia: Broken or Knocked Out Tooth.” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2010. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000058.htm. Accessed 2010.

4“Dental Emergencies.” American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/370.aspx Accessed 2010.

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.

Ozone in Dentistry

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One simmering controversy in dentistry has to do with ozone, but nothing to do with the layer that surrounds our planet. Rather, it’s a new and controversial alternative form of dental treatment. Some dentists are convinced that delivering ozone gas, a powerful naturally-occurring oxidant, into a decaying tooth can halt or even reverse the process altogether.

Dental caries, otherwise known as cavities, are bacterial infections that erode and destroy tooth structure due to the acid that is produced every time food is consumed. Ozone is toxic to certain bacteria, so the theory goes that injecting ozone into a carious lesion might reduce the number of cariogenic bacteria.

Ozone (O3) is formed from oxygen (O2) splitting into two oxygen molecules (O1) under various conditions, including an electrical discharge like a lightning strike. Then these single molecules collide with O2 oxygen to form ozone. If you have ever noticed a different scent in the air after a lightning storm, it is likely that you are smelling the higher concentration of ozone. In fact, the word ozone is derived from the Greek word “ozein,” which means “to smell.”

Ozone can exist in gas, liquid or solid form, and has long been used in industrial and medical applications. The extra oxygen molecule on ozone is loosely bound, excited and readily available to jump off, attach to, and oxidize other molecules. This oxidation process can destroy a variety of microorganisms. Ozone-based sterilizers are often used for some instrument and equipment sterilizing applications in hospitals. Ozone is also used by some municipal water systems to kill bacteria in the water.

Proponents argue that dentists can use ozone to start a process that removes bacterial waste products, halts dental cavities and begins a process of repair through accelerated remineralization of damaged teeth. According to them, bacteria, viruses and fungi lack antioxidant enzymes in their cell membranes, so those harmful antibodies are destroyed when ozone ruptures their cell membrane. Healthy cells, on the other hand, are unaffected by therapeutic levels of ozone because they have antioxidant enzymes in their cell membranes.1 Those in the dental community in favor of ozone therapy say dentists are utilizing it for periodontal therapy, root canal treatment, tooth sensitivity, canker sores, cold sores and bone infections, among other things.1

It’s an interesting idea and a pretty straightforward concept. Any treatment that not only saves or protects a tooth from decay but avoid the use of needles and anesthetic would be a welcome addition to a dentist’s treatment options. Unfortunately, despite some promising evidence of effectiveness against decay-causing bacteria in laboratory studies, the current evidence base for ozone therapy in dentistry is insufficient to conclude that it is an effective or cost-effective addition to the management and treatment of caries. At this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which assesses new drugs and medical devices for safety and efficacy and regulates their use and marketing in the U.S., has not cleared any ozone-generating devices for use in dentistry.

Ultimately, not enough is known as this time and some high quality clinical trials research is necessary. Biased research and inconsistent outcome measures have made researchers unable to confidently conclude that the application of ozone gas to the surface of decayed teeth halts or reverses the decay process. Therefore, at this time, ozone therapy for treatment the prevention and control of tooth decay is not considered a viable alternative to current treatment methods in the world of evidence-based dentistry.2

1 American College of Integrated Medicine and Dentistry. http://www.ozonefordentistry.com/DentalO.html Accessed July 10.

2 National Center for Biotechnology Information. Ozone Therapy for the Treatment of Dental Caries. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15266519 Accessed July 10.

3 Rickard GD, Richardson RJ, Johnson TM, McColl DC, Hooper L . Ozone therapy for the treatment of dental caries.  Cochrane review.   2008 http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD004153/ozone-therapy-for-the-treatment-of-dental-caries#sthash.qfFibqsE.dpuf

Image courtesy of webelements.com

Don’t Pass on Your Dentophobia

Parents who are afraid to visit the dentist may pass the same fear on to their children, possibly keeping them from getting routine dental check-ups that are important to promote healthy teeth and a lifetime of good oral health habits.

That’s one of the key findings from a survey of children’s oral health1 conducted on behalf of Delta Dental, the nation’s leading dental benefits provider. On average, the survey found that nearly 30 percent of children are afraid to visit the dentist. But when their parents also fear the dentist, that number jumped to almost 40 percent. Conversely, just 24 percent of children whose parents are unafraid of the dentist were still fearful of dental visits themselves.

The top reason parents say their children are afraid to visit the dentist is due to painful or sensitive teeth (17 percent). Other explanations include the noise and smell (11 percent), drills and dental equipment (10 percent), and shots and needles (9 percent).

During National Mental Health Month, Delta Dental offers parents and caregivers three simple tips to help children feel more comfortable in the dentist’s chair:

  • Start young: It’s recommended that children visit the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth – and no later than their first birthday. Starting at a young age allows children and parents to establish trust with a dentist and begin a routine of regular dental visits.
  • Keep it simple and positive: If children ask questions before a visit to the dentist, avoid using words that could make them scared, such as drill, shot or filling, or counseling them that it won’t hurt, since they often aren’t aware it could hurt in the first place. Instead, explain that the dentist is simply going to check their smile and count their teeth. Try not to discuss any negative experience that you might have had so your child can form their own opinion through personal experience.
  • Call ahead: Tell the dentist ahead of time that your child may be anxious about the visit. Most pediatric dental offices will have toys or music that children can focus on instead of the appointment itself, helping them relax and making a trip to the dentist a fun and enjoyable experience.

Parents need to help children understand why visiting the dentist is so important and help make their visits as comfortable as possible. Kids who have negative experiences at the dentist may be less inclined to make regular visits as teenagers and grown adults.

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.