Tooth Talk

Did You Know?

The Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) has a dental hygiene clinic. If you have dental needs, but no insurance; have a medical card but cannot find a dentist who will accept it; sometimes have bleeding gums when you brush; want to solve these problems but can't afford to go to the dentist, then the HACC dental hygiene clinic may be for you. HACC's Dental Hygiene Clinic provides preventive dental services to the general public. A complete dental exam, a routine cleaning, and thorough home care instructions are available at minimal cost. If needed, x-rays, deep (periodontal) cleaning and sealants are also available. The Clinic accepts all forms of Medical Assistance and all CHIP plans.

The Clinic accepts clients of all ages. Clients are seen by student dental hygienists. Licensed dentists and dental hygienists oversee each client's treatment and evaluate the development of each student dental hygienist's skills. The Dental Hygiene clinic is located at HACC's Harrisburg Campus in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Daytime and evening clinic hours are available during the school year. For more information or an appointment, contact the Dental Hygiene Clinic at 780-2441.

Choose to Chew

Exciting new evidence has shown that chewing sugarless gum flavored with Xylitol can help prevent tooth decay! Xylitol is a healthy alternative to sucrose and it negatively affects the type of bacteria that is responsible for cavities. Studies have shown that children who chew Xylitol gum benefit greatly. The most opportune time to begin chewing Xylitol gum is the year before the first permanent molar erupts, or when the child is approximately 5 years old. It takes only five minutes of chewing to attain the benefits of Xylitol. Older children can also benefit from the effects of chewing Xylitol gum.

Studies on pregnant women who chewed Xylitol gum are additionally exciting. Pregnant women were asked to chew Xylitol gum two to three times per day throughout their pregnancy and until the children were 24 months old. When these children were evaluated at age 5, they were found to have 70% fewer decayed, missing, and filled primary (baby) teeth.

Even the United States Army is including Xylitol in the rations that they give to soldiers. They teach them to use the slogan, "Look for Xylitol First," to remind the troops to look for Xylitol as the first ingredient in all chewing gums and candy to increase oral health. Perhaps a few packages of Xylitol sugarless gum are in order for the Christmas stockings this year?

Dental Hygiene Services Program Information

The beginning of the school year brings with it a multitude of forms and notices for parents to read and sign. The Dental Hygiene Services Program of the West Shore School District helps to contribute to this parental paperwork. Depending upon a child's grade level and where a family lives, parents may discover two dental forms in their student's backpack the first week or two of school.

The State of Pennsylvania requires that all children must show evidence of receiving a dental examination (3) three times within their school career. Evidence of this exam may be received by having the child see his or her own dentist. The parent must provide verification of the exam by having the child's dentist fill out a Private Dentist Report form that will come home with each student at the beginning of the first, fourth, and seventh grade year. The dental hygienist will screen all students in these grades who do not return a signed form by the dentist. If your child is screened by the dental hygienist and dental problems are noted, a referral form will be sent home detailing the suspected areas of concern.

In addition, children in elementary school who do not have a fluoridated water supply at home have an opportunity to receive fluoride tablets at school. Clinical studies have shown that fluoride reduces the incidence of tooth decay and is especially valuable to children when their teeth are developing. Parental permission is required yearly for a student to be included in this program. Fluoride program permission slips will be sent home with students either the first or second day of school

Questions regarding either of these programs may be directed to Mrs. Debra Barr, West Shore School District Dental Hygienist at: 938-9577.

Stop the Pop

Soda pop is no longer an occasional treat. Drinking soda pop, and other high-sugar, high-acid beverages has become a daily habit for many people - especially children and adolescents. Steady consumption of soda pop can eventually result in tooth decay.

Sugar in soda pop combines with bacteria in the mouth to form acid. This acid, plus the extra acid ingredients in soda pop attack the teeth. Each acid attack lasts about 20 minutes, and acid attacks start over again with every sip! Ongoing acid attacks weaken tooth enamel and tooth decay begins. Some people think that if they drink "sugar free" soda pop, they are reducing their risk of decay; however, diet or "sugar free" soda pop still has acid in it that can harm the teeth. Even fruit drinks have acid and sugar in them that can cause tooth decay.

To reduce tooth decay risks, soda pop and juices should be consumed in moderation. Water and milk are better beverage choices. Regular consumption of milk bathes the teeth in calcium and combats the tooth decay and erosion caused by soda pop. Water contains no sugar, no acid and no calories and, it contributes to overall health.

A bottle of soda pop in the 1950's was 6.5 ounces. Today, a 12-ounce can is standard and a 20-ounce bottle is common. One 12-ounce can of soda pop contains between 10 to12 teaspoons of sugar! Larger container sizes mean more calories, more sugar and more acid in a single serving.

In addition to cavities, heavy soda pop consumption has been linked to diabetes, obesity, kidney stones, heart disease and osteoporosis. Try to encourage children and adolescents to consume more water and milk. It is good for their teeth, and for their health!

It All Adds Up: Sweet Snacks + Plaque Bacteria = Tooth Decay

Many of our elementary students are provided with a snack time during their school day. As I visit West School School District elementary classrooms, I am encouraged by some of the healthy snacks I see children consuming. Not only do these snacks go along way in providing healthy nutrition for children, they also help to decrease the action of decay acids on children's tooth enamel.

Each time food is eaten, decay acids coat the teeth for at least twenty to thirty minutes. If a sugary snack is consumed, it gives the plaque bacteria the necessary ammunition they need to make decay acids. This is not to say that sweets should never be eaten, they should just be eaten in conjunction with meals. The extra saliva that is produced during mealtime helps to neutralize the decay producing acids. Sweets eaten with meals are not as damaging to teeth as they are if they are eaten in between meals as snacks.

Following is a list of tooth healthy snacks: raw vegetables with or without dip, fresh fruit, sugar free yogurt, popcorn, unsugared cereal, nuts, soy or sunflower seeds, cheese - especially cheddar, unsweetened rice cakes, hard boiled eggs, sugar free Jello or sugar free pudding cups. Consider some of these tooth healthy choices when helping your child to pack his or her school snack. Not only will the above choices benefit your child's teeth, they will benefit his or her nutritional health.

Spring Forward for Dental Health

Spring brings with it warmer weather, outdoor sports, and at the elementary level, dental health education. Between the beginning of March and the end of May, all West Shore School District elementary students in kindergarten through fifth grade will have experienced a dental health education lesson in their classroom. Following is a list of the topics covered at each grade level:

Kindergarten - Healthy Snacks and a visit from the "Tooth Fairy" and "Dr. Toothman" (a puppet presentation highlighting good care for teeth)

First Grade -lesson about eating healthy foods, a mock visit to the dentist, and toothbrushing instruction with Allie the Alligator puppet (ask your children what they used as their "pretend toothbrush"). First grade students will also bring home a Crest packet that includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, and disclosing tablets.

Second Grade -lesson about the Food Pyramid, portion size, and eating healthy foods for healthy teeth, gums, and bodies. The American Dental Association's video, Dudley and DeeDee in Nutrition Land is also shown.

Third Grade - lesson about the parts of a tooth, the names of the teeth and the function of each type of tooth; discussion about the loss of primary ("baby teeth") and the eruption of permanent teeth; introduction to the concept of plaque - what it causes and what we need to do to remove it. A short video is shown about sealants. Students will bring home a new toothbrush.

Fourth grade - lesson about tooth decay - how it happens, and what we can do to prevent it; lesson includes continued discussion about the role of plaque in tooth decay; involved discussion of how and when eating sugars can assist in acquiring tooth decay; discussion about fluoride and how it protects teeth from tooth decay

Fifth grade - lesson about the periodontal (gum) diseases, gingivitis and periodontitis; instruction in correct brushing and flossing methods. Students will bring home dental floss.

Ask your children what they have learned this year about dental health. Hopefully, they will have some information to share with you!

Mouth Guards A Must

With the fall sports season well under way, and the winter sports season quickly approaching, the importance of equipping active children with properly fitting mouthguards cannot be underestimated. Mouthguards help to cushion blows that might otherwise cause broken teeth and injuries to the lips, tongue, face or jaw. It is believed that wearing a mouthguard may also reduce the severity and incidence of concussions. Anyone who participates in a sport that carries a significant risk of injury should wear a mouth guard. This includes a wide range of sports like football, hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, and martial arts. Mouthguards are also recommended for recreational activities like skateboarding and roller blading.

There are three kinds of mouthguards: the ready-made, or stock, mouthguard; the mouth-formed "boil-and-bite" mouthguard; and the custom-made mouth guard made by your dentist. All three mouthguards provide protection, but they vary in comfort and cost. The most effective mouthguard should be flexible, tear-resistant, and comfortable. It should fit properly, be durable and easy to clean, and not restrict speech or breathing. Your child's dentist can suggest the right mouthguard for him or her.

Since 31 percent of all sporting injuries result in injury to the teeth, mouth or head area, a properly fitting mouth guard is an important piece of athletic gear. Give your child a "sporting chance" and be sure that he or she is wearing a properly fitting mouth guard for athletic and recreational activities.

Seal in a Smile

Many children get their first cavities on the chewing surfaces of their permanent molar teeth. These teeth typically have very deep pits and grooves on the tops and the sides. Thorough brushing and flossing helps to remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth, but toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into the depressions and groozes to extract food and plaque. Sealants protect these vulnerable areas by sealing out plaque and food.

A sealant is a plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting tooth enamel from plaque and decay acids. Sealants work best when they are applied shortly after the permanent teeth erupt. When placed early, the molar teeth do not have a chance to develop tooth decay.

Sealants are easy for a dentist or a dental hygienist to apply. It takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. As long as the sealant remains intact, the chewing surface of the tooth will be protected from decay. Sealants cost less than a filling, and are covered by most dental insurance plans.

Harrisburg Area Community College's Dental Hygiene Clinic is offering a program entitled "Sealant Saturday." On Saturday, February 7, 2003, children who do not have dental insurance can have sealants placed on their teeth free of charge. This service will be offered from 9:00 until 3:00. Interested families should call the HACC Dental Hygiene Clinic after January 5, 2004 to schedule an appointment.

The Importance of Healthy Primary Teeth

The beginning of the New Year brought with it the conclusion of the elementary dental screening program. If a student's dental screening indicated potential dental need, the student's family received a referral for their child to be evaluated by a dentist. Some families have asked why it is important to save and fill primary, or "baby teeth." I will attempt to address this concern in this column.

Baby teeth help a child to speak and chew. They also contribute to a child's appearance. Baby teeth help to maintain space for the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, nearby teeth can move into the space. When the permanent tooth is ready to come through, there may not be enough space. In addition, untreated cavities in baby teeth can damage permanent teeth.

A child's oral health status cannot be separated from overall well-being. Pain from untreated tooth decay can result in disrupted sleep patterns and an inability to comfortably eat and drink. Consequently, as children age, they fall behind their peers in weight gain. Untreated dental infection can result in illness. School-aged children often miss school because of dental problems. Those who do attend school with dental problems frequently report pain, fever, swelling and tiredness, and are often inattentive and distracted in the classroom. As noted, healthy baby teeth are important in the overall health and well-being of a child!

Oral Hygiene and Diabetes

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