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

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.


Going Green with Delta Dental

DD_Logo_pms360_RGB_3inWhen you think of green and Delta Dental, you might think of the green that has long been a featured part of the logo. But on Earth Day, it’s worth pointing out that Delta Dental companies have taken steps to ensure their business initiatives are green as well.

Delta Dental companies are moving their network provider offices from paper claims to electronic submissions, which helps save paper and reimburses their dentists faster. They also encourage their subscribers to go paperless by signing up for electronic dental benefits statements. A few even provide incentives – such as guaranteeing patient eligibility – for the subscribers who choose to perish paper.

Member companies use blog posts and pins on social media sites like Pinterest to share ideas with their environmentally-conscious consumers about reusing old toothbrushes for garden stakes or as cleaning tools, or turning empty tubes of toothpaste into a pencil holder.

Of course, corporations ought to practice what they preach. One Delta Dental company saved almost $60,000 by eliminating disposable paper cups and retrofitting light fixtures at its headquarters as part of its “green program initiative.”1

Like a lot of corporations in the 21st century, Delta Dental is always searching for ways to improve business efficiency and sustainability. We feel that corporate social responsibility these days must include going green.

1  Environmental & Energy Management News. Delta Dental Racks Up Savings with Varied Environmental Efforts. http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/11/12/delta-dental-racks-up-savings-with-varied-environmental-efforts/

Don’t Bottle Up the Oral Health Benefits of Fluoridated Water

Nearly 60 percent  of caregivers say they are more likely to give children bottled water than tap water, potentially depriving kids of fluoride that is critical to good oral health. In addition, according to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey,1 more than twice as many caregivers say bottled water is better for children’s oral health than tap water – an opinion at odds with evidence-based dentistry and more than six decades of public health experience.

Fluoride actually helps to repair (remineralize) tooth surfaces that are damaged by the acid produced by certain bacteria in the mouth, which prevents cavities from continuing to form.2 Since U.S. cities began adding fluoride to water supplies more than 65 years ago, tooth decay has decreased dramatically.3 This result led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name water fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”4

Unfortunately, only 17 percent of parents believe that tap water is better for their children’s oral health than bottled water.1 Some bottled waters do contain fluoride but usually not in the optimal amount.5  Fluoride in the water provides decay-preventive benefits for the teeth of both children and adults, which makes it the most cost-effective way for communities to improve overall oral health.

The key to fluoride’s protective benefit is by having a little fluoride on your teeth throughout the day. Brushing teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, drinking fluoridated water and limiting frequent between-meal snacking on sugary or starchy foods will help keep most children and adults tooth decay-free.

If children don’t drink fluoridated water, Delta Dental offers these ways to get more fluoride into their diet:

  • Fluoridated toothpastes, mouth rinses and/or professionally-applied gels or varnishes. These products can help strengthen teeth by hardening the outer enamel surface. With toothpaste and rinses children tend to swallow much of what they put in their mouth. So fluoride toothpaste use should start about age 2 and fluoride rinses probably not until about ages 6 or 7.
  • Dietary fluoride supplements, such as tablets, drops or lozenges, which are typically available only by prescription and are intended for children typically older than 6 months living in areas without fluoridated water in their community.
  • Bottled water that states on the label that it contains the right amount of fluoride.

As with other vitamins and minerals, it’s important to get enough, but not too much. When young children whose teeth are still developing under their gums (up to about age 9) get too much fluoride, their teeth may erupt with faint white lines or patches called dental fluorosis. The CDC has reported an increase in dental fluorosis over the past couple of decades. Inappropriate swallowing of toothpaste and children living in fluoridated areas that also receive fluoride supplements are believed to play a major role in this increase.

For advice on the proper amount of fluoride specifically recommended for your child, consult with your dentist. The recommendation will depend on your child’s age, how much fluoride naturally occurs in your local water and your child’s risk for tooth decay.

Traits of Toothpaste

Toothpaste – it has been the foundation of the most basic of daily oral health routines dating back to ancient civilizations. But, how many people today actually know what makes up the concoction that we dab on our toothbrushes and scrub all over our teeth every morning and night? You’ll be happy to know that we’ve come a long way since the use of crushed bones and oyster shells, ashes, burnt eggshells and powder of ox hoof.

Toothpastes, also called dentifrices, are pastes, gels or powders that help remove plaque and strengthen tooth enamel. So, what are all of those substances listed on the side of the tube? The paste or gel itself takes its form from abrasives, water, humectants and binders. Other ingredients like detergents or surfactants; preservatives; flavor, color, and sweetening agents; fluoride; calcium phosphate; anti-bacterials; whiteners; and other agents may be added to provide certain properties to each specific toothpaste forumulation. All of these ingredients can be important for not only helping to prevent dental disease but also for giving the toothpaste the taste, appearance and feel in the mouth that makes a person want to brush with it.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ingredients you will find in your toothpaste and why they are there.

Fluoride is the key active ingredient in toothpaste that has been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride affects the bacteria that cause tooth decay, but its primary action is to incorporate into the tooth structure (enamel and dentin) making the tooth more resistant to acid attack by decay-causing bacteria. It actually repairs (remineralizes) the tooth enamel that gets damaged by the acid producing bacteria present in almost everyone’s mouth. Without fluoride in the toothpaste, the cavity-preventing benefit from brushing your teeth is severely limited. Very few people brush thoroughly enough to prevent cavities by brushing alone. Over-the-counter (OTC) toothpaste in the U.S. contains fluoride at approximately 1,100 parts-per-million (ppm). There are several different fluoride formulations and all are effective in helping to prevent tooth decay. Other remineralizing agents such as amorphous calcium phosphate have demonstrated some decay prevention ability and are now being added to some toothpastes.

Mild abrasives remove food debris and stains, as well as the sticky plaque that is always forming on the teeth. The goal is to make them abrasive enough for efficient cleaning, but not so abrasive as to damage the tooth enamel or the softer dentin or cementum that makes up the tooth root surface. Common abrasives you may see on your tube include calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), dehydrated silica gels, hydrated aluminum oxides, magnesium carbonate, phosphate salts and silicates.1

Humectants are organic compounds that hold water and help the toothpaste maintain its moisture even when exposed to air. Examples include glycerol, propylene, glycol and sorbitol.1

Binders or thickeners help keep the whole mix together in a nice paste or gel and stabilize this form. They provide the texture and flow to get the toothpaste onto the brush and keep it there. These include natural xanthum gums, seaweed colloids (carrageenan) and synthetic cellulose.1

Flavor, color and sweetening agents make brushing enjoyable by providing visual appeal, pleasing taste and fresher breath. Specific ingredients vary, but common flavorings include spearmint and peppermint, though nowadays there seems to be toothpaste available in flavors for every taste including strawberry, bubblegum, vanilla, green tea, fennel and bacon – even scotch and bourbon. For a sweet taste, artificial sweeteners like saccharin or natural sweeteners like xylitol are added since they do not promote tooth decay.

Antibacterial agents are added to reduce plaque growth, the sticky bacterial-laden film that forms constantly on the teeth and can eventually cause tooth decay and/or gingivitis and more serious gum diseases if not brushed away regularly. Some anti-plaque agents include triclosan and cetylpyridinum chloride.

Detergents in toothpaste create foaming action that helps the toothpaste coat the teeth. The foam helps reduce surface tension on the tooth, and makes cleaning easier and food particles or debris less likely to reattach to the tooth before it can be spit out. They include sodium lauryl (dodecyl) sulfate (SLS) and sodium N-Lauryl sarcosinate. 1 Some toothpaste users have been reported to develop canker sores as a result of an allergic reaction to SLS, but SLS-free toothpastes are available.

Preservatives prevent the growth of microbes in the toothpaste. Methyl paraben and sodium benzoate are also commonly found in food and beverage products.

Whiteners, desensitizers and tartar preventers Other agents appear in toothpastes that make specific claims for whitening (carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide); desensitizing sensitive root surfaces (potassium nitrate, arginine bicarbonate/calcium carbonate complex); and preventing tartar/calculus buildup (tetrapotassium pyrophosphate/tetra and disodium pyrophosphates, sodium hexametaphosphate). Even though some whitening toothpastes contain similar chemicals to those used in dental office bleaching, these toothpaste products work primarily by removing surface stains and don’t typically change the basic tooth shade like bleaching strips or bleaching treatments at a dental office.

For best tooth decay prevention, we recommend brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. So, when is the best time to become one with your favorite toothpaste? Preferably right before bed and in the morning, but soon after meals is also very effective.

1 American Dental Association. Toothpaste. http://www.ada.org/1322.aspx Accessed January 2013.

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.