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.

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

Kids Need to Brush Longer and More Often

Poor and infrequent brushing may be major obstacles keeping children from having excellent oral health and are the areas that cause caregivers the greatest concern.

A survey1 of American children’s oral health found that while nearly two out of five Americans (37 percent) report that their child’s overall oral health is excellent, more than a third of the survey respondents (35 percent) admit their child brushes his or her teeth less than twice a day. Parents and caregivers recognize the frequency as “not enough,” despite the fact that nearly all of those surveyed (96 percent) with children up to age 6 say they supervise or assist with brushing.

Among those who rate their child’s oral health as less than excellent, only 56 percent say their child brushes his or her teeth for at least two minutes, which is the amount of time dentists typically recommend spending on each brushing.

Getting children to brush regularly, and correctly, can be a real challenge. Here are some easy ideas to encourage brushing:

  • Trade places: Tired of prying your way in whenever it’s time to brush those little teeth? Why not reverse roles and let the child brush your teeth? It’s fun for them and shows them the right way to brush. Just remember, do not share a toothbrush. According to the American Dental Association, sharing a toothbrush may result in an exchange of microorganisms and an increased risk of infections.
  • Take turns: Set a timer and have the child brush his or her teeth for 30 seconds. Then you brush their teeth for 30 seconds. Repeat this at least twice.
  • Call in reinforcements: If children stubbornly neglect to brush or floss, maybe it’s time to change the messenger. Call the dental office before the next checkup and let them know what’s going on. The same motivational message might be heeded if it comes from a third party, especially the dentist.

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.


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

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

Ignorance Not Blissful for Your Children’s Oral Health

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you” is a popular idiom that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to personal health. In fact, parents’ lack of knowledge about certain common at-home habits could jeopardize their children’s oral health.

For instance, nearly half of American children under age 3 have never seen the dentist, according to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey.1 What many parents don’t realize is the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after their first tooth erupts.2

Parents should take children to the dentist by age 1 to establish a trusting relationship with the dentist and receive critical oral health care advice. Studies show that early preventive dental care can save in future dental treatment costs.

Fill bottles with water, not juice or milk
Nearly 50 percent of caregivers with a child 4 years old or younger report that the child sometimes takes a nap or goes to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice. This bad habit can lead to early childhood (baby bottle) tooth decay.

Ideally, children should finish a bottle before they are put down to sleep. But if they must have something to comfort them while they go to sleep, fill a bottle with water. Don’t get in the habit of providing sweet drinks because you think it will please your child.  Of course, most children do like sweets, but babies and toddlers want the soothing, repetitive action of sucking on a bottle more than sweetened drinks.

Avoid sharing food and utensils with children
Did you know that caregivers can actually pass harmful bacteria from their mouth to a child’s mouth, which can put the child at an increased risk for cavities? Bacteria are passed when items contaminated with saliva go into a child’s mouth. Typically, this takes place through natural, parental behaviors, such as sharing eating utensils or cleaning off your baby’s pacifier with your mouth. Parents with a history of poor oral health are particularly likely to pass germs along.

However, three out of every four caregivers say they share utensils such as a spoon, fork or glass with a child. Caregivers of children ages 2 to 3 are most likely to share utensils with their children.

For additional tips to help keep children’s teeth healthy during National Smile Month and all year long, visit www.oralhealth.deltadental.com.

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.

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