California Dental Hygienists’ Association Offers Tips to Improve Health During Children’s Dental Health Month

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Organization warns of connection between Childhood Obesity and Poor Oral Health

It’s never too early to protect your child’s baby teeth. Dental issues, such as large cavities, can affect childhood development in several ways.

We join the public health community in sounding the alarm on this national epidemic

One of the hidden dangers of childhood obesity is the adverse impact the epidemic typically has on oral and overall health, the California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) warned today at the beginning of Children’s Dental Health Month.

“We join the public health community in sounding the alarm on this national epidemic,” said Susan Lopez, CDHA’s president. “The importance of protecting sound oral health provides yet another reason for parents and caregivers to aggressively take steps to combat childhood obesity.”

“Obesity increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, joint issues, and social or psychological issues such as discrimination and poor self-esteem. It also contributes to damaging teeth and promoting gum disease,” she said. For example, the same sugary beverages that contribute to obesity also destroy tooth enamel.

“Frequent snacking brings another red flag into the mix,” said Lopez, “because it creates a prolonged acidic environment in the mouth.” This condition damages teeth by making one more susceptible to both gum inflammation and cavities.

Protecting baby teeth, which are present in the mouth until approximately 12 years of age, is critical because of the role they play in the development and eruption of adult teeth. Dental issues, such as large cavities, can affect childhood development in several ways:

(1) Decay can affect a child’s ability to function or concentrate in school due to pain. A UCLA research study stated that 7 percent of California children, ages 5-17, missed at least one day of school due to a dental problem in the last year.

(2) Cavities can make chewing food thoroughly difficult, affecting digestion.

(3) Missing teeth can make it difficult to pronounce words correctly, affecting social communication.

(4) Cavities and missing teeth can affect self-esteem and acceptance if decayed teeth are visible when smiling.

In keeping with its mission to promote better oral health, the CDHA is promoting a healthier lifestyle by offering a few practical suggestions to alter the epidemic of obesity:

  •     Limit the consumption of soda whenever possible – opt for tap water.
  •     If not drinking water, opt for milk or 100% diluted fruit juice.
  •     Limit snacks to no more than twice a day – put the focus on meal times.
  •     When snacking, avoid sweets and junk food. Snacks high in protein and low in carbohydrates are better choices. String cheese, yogurt, carrots, apples or almonds can easily substitute for crackers or chips; they keep kids satisfied longer and blood sugar levels steady.
  •     Keep portions small. Beware of oversized portions when eating out.
  •     Talk to your pediatrician about a healthy weight range for your child.
  •     Encourage children to thoroughly chew their food.
  •     Parents should assist children under the age of seven in brushing and flossing their teeth for at least two minutes every morning and evening.
  •     Sugar-free gum, mints or candy with xylitol (a natural sweetener that prevents cavities and has a lower glycemic index), can be a treat between or after meals.
  •     Children with orthodontic appliances (braces, retainers, expanders, etc.) require extra oral hygiene care to keep teeth and gums healthy. Ask your dental hygienist if there are special oral hygiene aids that they can recommend to make cleaning easier. Effective brushing and flossing can keep cavities and inflammation away, keeping orthodontic treatment on schedule and dental visits to a minimum.

“These relatively small adjustments in everyday habits can make a big difference in the oral health of children,” said Lopez. CDHA encourages incremental healthy lifestyle changes to promote better oral and overall health.

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The California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state’s dental hygiene profession. CDHA represents thousands of dental hygienists in California and is dedicated to expanding opportunities for the profession and access to care for all Californians.

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Stevan Allen

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