Help Your Teeth Age Gracefully with You

Advances in medical technology, public health, personal health knowledge and greater access to health insurance are some of the key factors helping people in the U.S. today live longer and in better health than previous generations. The most recent data indicate that life expectancy from birth is at an all-time high of nearly 78 years, with women at 80.5 and men at 75.5 years.1

Improvements in oral health are also significant, and adults 65 and older are keeping more of their natural teeth for their entire lives than previous generations. During National Healthy Aging Month, Delta Dental is advising older adults that practicing good oral health habits is more important than ever.

The popular idiom “long in the tooth” references how gums wear away in the aging process, leaving the root of the tooth exposed. The tooth root is much softer and more prone to dental decay than the enamel that covers the tooth crown. Dental disease is cumulative over a lifetime, so almost all adults ages 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.2 Older adults who take any one of several hundred medications that can cause a decrease in saliva should be especially careful because a lack of saliva brings a much higher risk for tooth decay.

Smart dental hygiene is important even for those seniors who have lost their regular teeth. Besides helping ensure dentures and other prosthetic replacements fit properly, dentists can catch life-threatening diseases like oral cancer early when they are at a more treatable stage.

Studies show that individuals with dental insurance are far less likely to have unmet dental needs than those with insurance, and are also more likely to get regular dental exams.3 However, once individuals retire they often neglect to purchase ongoing dental coverage. Medicare does not provide dental coverage but individual plans are available for purchase. Seniors can also check to see if membership in any national organizations or associations qualifies them to purchase dental benefits.

1 The 2012 Statistical Abstract.. The National Data Book. Data Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008, Vol. 59, No. 2, December 2010. Accessed August 27, 2012 at:http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0104.pdf

2 “Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Seniors (Age 65 and Over).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/DentalCaries/DentalCariesSeniors65older. Accessed August, 2012.

3 Bloom B, Simile CM, Adams PF, Cohen RA. Oral health status and access to oral health care for U.S. adults aged 18–64: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(253). 2012.

Top Five Best Oral Health Practices at School

It may seem like a mindless matter, but packing an apple instead of a sugary snack in a child’s lunch this fall can help improve oral health and educational performance. After all, children eat more than 20 percent of their meals at school during the academic year. So Delta Dental, the nation’s largest dental benefits provider, reminds parents to make good decisions when packing a child’s school lunch.

Overconsumption of sugar harms a child’s oral and overall health. Snacks like cookies, candy and chewy fruit snacks mix with bacteria in the sticky plaque that constantly forms on teeth to generate acid, which can wear away enamel and cause tooth decay. While sweets may provide a temporary jolt for kids, that sugar rush soon turns into a crash and kids are left feeling lethargic. That is not the kind of mental state kids need to prepare for an afternoon of classes.

Instead, Delta Dental recommends these top five oral health best practices:

• After breakfast, before leaving for school, make sure your child brushes well with a fluoridated toothpaste. Brushing immediately following a meal helps clean teeth and eliminates halitosis (bad breath).

• Fill a child’s lunch box with healthy lunch food and snacks such as lean meats, whole grain breads, low-fat yogurt or cheeses, apples, bite-size carrots and baked chips or whole-grain crackers. Besides being packed with nutrients, certain fruits and veggies can even help clean the teeth and gums. Make treats a treat. Serve sugary sticky snacks like cookies, cake and brownies and candy only in moderation. Room parents should discuss bringing in healthy snacks along with sugary treats for birthdays and other classroom parties.

• If a child chews gum and the school allows it, chewing sugar-free gum for a few minutes in between lunch and afternoon classes can help stimulate saliva to buffer the acid and help dislodge food particles from the mouth. Gum containing the natural sweetener, Xylitol, is a particularly good option since studies have shown that consistent exposure to Xylitol can reduce cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.

• Children with braces should try to brush or rinse well with water after lunch. Children who wear removable retainers should clean them well after each meal and rinse out their mouths.

• Before the school year starts, schedule a dental visit to make sure there are no problems to distract a child during the school year. Ask the dentist about sealants as a way to protect children’s teeth from cavities. Sealants – a thin coating of bonding material applied over the chewing surface of molar teeth – act as a barrier to cavity-causing bacteria.

Five Ways to Help Your Children Brush Better

Poor and infrequent brushing may be some of the biggest obstacles preventing children in the United States from having good oral health. That’s one of the key findings from a recent survey1 of American children’s oral health, conducted on behalf of Delta Dental Plans Association, the nation’s leading dental benefits provider.

While nearly two out of five Americans (37 percent) report that their child’s overall oral health is excellent, more than a third of survey respondents (35 percent) admit their child brushes his or her teeth less than twice a day.

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 2 minutes, which is the amount of time dentists typically recommend spending on each brushing.

While the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry recommends daily flossing, nearly half (48 percent) of the survey respondents whose children have teeth say they have never been flossed; only 22 percent report their child’s teeth are flossed daily.

Getting small children to brush properly can be a challenge, but here are some ideas that can help:

• 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 don’t 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.

• Fun Toothbrush Holder/Toothbrush: Another way to get children brushing is by utilizing oral health gifts like robot, tree or animal-shaped toothbrush holders that stick to walls. Kids like the characters and the holder provides a sanitary storage spot for their toothbrushes and toothpaste. Remember to apply just a small dab of toothpaste to the brush since the amount of fluoride in children’s toothpaste is still adult strength.

• Take turns: Set a timer and have the child brush his or her teeth for one minute. Then reset the timer and brush their teeth for the final minute.

• 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.