Today’s Dentistry – YMCA Healthy Kids Day & Flossing Around the World

YMCA Healthy Kids Day & Flossing Around the World  

by Dr. Ed Warr, DDS

It’s spring again and that means Healthy Kids Day at the YMCA.  We are so grateful for the opportunity we have each year to participate in that event.   When we consider the healthy habits that we have, it is always surprising to me the underestimation placed on the importance of a healthy mouth.  We often hear the phrase, “Oh, they’re just baby teeth.”

Tooth decay is still the most common ailment to afflict children, affecting 42% of children ages 2-11 and 59% of children ages 12-19.  Caries are 5-8 times more common in children than asthma, the second most common disease of childhood.  In the United States, it is estimated that children with poor dental health are 3 times more likely to miss school than their healthy counterparts, from school due to dental problems.  This is especially troubling considering the fact that dental decay is a 100% preventable disease.

Unfortunately, it is often not thought of as a disease associated with bacteria found in our mouths that can be transferred from person to person.  Many think of tooth decay as genetic, while others feel they are cursed with “soft teeth”.  Tooth decay is a very formulaic process: A + B = C; C + D = E.

Let’s start with the fact that cavities are predominately associated with bacteria.  Newborns do not have the bacteria Streptoccoccus Mutans.  Sometime in early childhood, that bacteria is transferred to children.  It can be transferred via a kiss, a shared spoon or cup, toothbrushes stored together on the counter top, etc.  S. Mutans is a bacteria that consumes sugar and produces acid.  So this is the first equation: S. Mutans + Sugar = Acid.

A parent with poor dental health, having many cavities, will have a much higher count of the bacteria in his or her mouth and so it is much more likely that this parent will transfer the bacteria to his or her children than it is for a parent with a healthy mouth.  And this is why it is observed that families sometimes have a high incidence of decay – because the bacteria are spread among family members.  And when an individual consumes large amounts of sugar, it provides a large food source for the bacteria, which then multiply.

When acid levels in the mouth increase, an environment develops that leads to the dissolving of tooth enamel.  And when tooth enamel dissolves, leaving a hole in the tooth, a cavity has developed.  A cavity or a hole in a tooth is an excellent shelter for bacteria.  It provides protection from floss, toothbrush bristles, and other cleaning aids that cannot reach into these holes to oust the bacteria.

This illustrates the second equation: Acid + Enamel = Holes in the Enamel.  Enamel is a crystalline structure that is dissolved when pH drops below approximately 5.5 (a lower pH means a more acidic environment).  For a cavity to develop, the acid exposure must be of sufficient intensity and duration.  This is where plaque plays a major role.

Plaque is that white, sticky substance often found on the surfaces of teeth – most commonly along the gumline and in hard to reach corners.  Plaque is simply a group of tens of thousands of bacteria that have clumped together.  The major problem with plaque is that when these bacteria produce acid, the acid is held tightly against the tooth, rather than being washed away and diluted by saliva.  This concentrated application of acid is very effective at dissolving enamel and producing a cavity.  And this is why your dental hygienist is always talking about flossing and brushing to properly remove all plaque from your teeth.  Areas where plaque remains, inevitably develop cavities.

So there you have it – two of the most effective ways to reduce the amount of childhood tooth decay:

1)A diet low in sugars;

2)Effectively removing plaque from the teeth.

Get ready for FLOSSING AROUND THE WORLD!!!  This summer as you travel about here in town or around the world, be sure and take your floss.  Send us photos of you flossing and enter to win an Apple iPad.