H2O: Oral Health Opportunity

In 1931, Dr. Frederick McKay concluded his 30-year investigation into why some children in Colorado had brown stained teeth but very little tooth decay. He discovered that water supplies with high levels of fluoride – a water-born mineral found in rocks and soil – caused the discoloration of tooth enamel and prevented tooth decay. [1] However exciting that moment of eureka must have been for Dr. McKay, it’s doubtful he ever imagined that adding fluoride to drinking water would eventually be named “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During National Public Health Week, Delta Dental encourages community leaders to support the fluoridation of their local water systems. Dr. McKay’s discovery was a boon for preventive health. It’s one of the easiest, most reliable ways to bolster the oral health of an entire community. Research studies have demonstrated how fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel and remineralize teeth that have already been damaged by the early effects of tooth decay.

Although most community water supplies had naturally-occurring fluoride in their water, it was usually at too low a level to help prevent tooth decay, and sometimes at such a high level that it would damage the tooth surface and cause staining and pitting. It took scientists almost two decades after McKay’s discovery to determine the right balance between decay prevention and tooth staining. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first U.S. city to add fluoride to their water supply to prevent tooth decay in the population. The results were so dramatic – a sixty percent drop in tooth decay rates in the children – that other communities began adopting the practice. Today, almost 75 percent of the U.S. population using public water systems – nearly 200 million people – has access to fluoridated water.

Fluoride has not been without its detractors, however, as some people object to any additives to drinking water even when the effects are beneficial. Others proclaim that fluoride has harmful effects, although a large body of scientific studies over the years has not supported those concerns. It is widely known that fluoride can protect teeth across an entire lifetime. The brown staining noticed by McKay – now called severe fluorosis – only occurs when the teeth are developing below the gumline during early childhood. That is why early researchers looked for the proper balance of fluoride to put in water that would both help prevent tooth decay and eliminate risk for severe fluorosis among children.

With the economy struggling, many communities are unable or unwilling to fund community water fluoridation projects. In response, several Delta Dental member companies have helped provide funding for community fluoridation projects. It’s an important dental initiative that Delta Dental is proud to support in the interest of improving public oral health.

To see a video for additional information on this important public health subject, please click here.

[1]The Story of Fluoridation by the NIDCR.  http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/fluoride/thestoryoffluoridation.htm. Accessed February 2012.

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.