Supporting a Healthy Body Supports a Healthy Mouth

girl with tabletHow much time do you spend sitting each day? Probably more than you’d care to. Many of us spend the vast majority of our time every day seated – usually in front of a screen of some kind.

Unfortunately, all this sitting is a major contributor to poor health. And it’s not just adults who have gone sedentary. Kids are in on the trend, too, with screen time up and physical activity is down. As the authors of a recent paper in Obesity Facts noted, surveys have shown that 6- to 11-year olds are inactive for roughly 6.4 hours a day. Among teens, that jumps to nearly 8 hours a day.

Physical activity, on the other hand, is declining. Of boys between 3 and 10 years of age, 11.7% participate in sports less than once or twice a week, and 11.7% do not engage in any sports at all, with even lower levels of physical inactivity in girls of the same age

Suffice it to say, those numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Ideally, screen time should be balanced with more opportunities for kids to keep moving. Their developing bodies and minds need physical activity. Too much screen time, on the other hand, can make inactivity seem the norm. It encourages sedentary behavior.

So what can we do to reduce screen time? A few ideas:

  • Many kids are sent to watch TV or play on a tablet while the adults prepare dinner. Try to involve the kids by having them help cook or set the table.

  • Eat dinner together at the table, away from the TV. It’s a great opportunity for talking with each other about how your day went and what you did and saw, as well as making plans for the following day or week.

  • Incorporate a family activity after dinner such as a neighborhood walk or light yoga. Yoga Calm is one of several excellent programs of yoga for kids. Or play a game together rather than watching a TV show or movie. Many simple card and board games can be played at practically any age.

  • Put some coloring or activity books out on the table or floor to occupy the kids during busy moments rather than sitting them in front of the TV or putting a tablet in their hands.

The American Academy of Pediatricians provides guidelines for screen time, harnessing the good digital media can do while keeping screens from completely dominating your child’s waking hours. Again, balance is key.

For sedentary time may also contribute to chronic inflammation – and where there’s chronic inflammation, there’s usually gum disease. In fact, inflammation is one of the things that links gum disease to a whole host of systemic health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and some cancers.

Simply put, supporting a health body supports a healthy mouth.

Image by Nick Olejniczak

New Study Shows Hormone Disruptors May Weaken Kids’ Teeth

According to research presented late last month at the European Congress of Endocrinology, a a child’s early exposure to the chemicals in plastics and fungicides may weaken their teeth for a lifetime.

Really.

Exposure to these pervasive chemicals – collectively known as hormone disruptors – seems to affect the hormones necessary for the growth of dental enamel. This can set up children for a lifetime of dental issues.

In particular, the study noted the nature of a chemical in plastic known as bisphenol A (BPA) and vinclozolin, a common fungicide.

BPA BPS sourcesThis study is concerning because, let’s face it, our lives are full of plastic that contains BPA. We drink from it and eat from it. We wrap, store and can our food with it. It’s found in toys, sports equipment, thermal paper receipts, even CDs and DVDs.

BPA is also present in many dental sealants and composite materials. (Fortunately, as we noted before, there are BPA-free alternatives available.)

But fungicides? You may not be aware that vinclozolin is commonly used to control blights, rots, and molds in edibles. Already banned in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, vinclozolin is still used in US orchards, vineyards, and on golf course turf. It lurks on conventional fruits and vegetables prone to fungal diseases including green beans, lettuce, onions, peaches, plums, raspberries and strawberries.

The problem when children are exposed to these hormone disruptors it that their permanent first molars and incisors may develop a condition known as molar incisor hyper-mineralization. This causes sensitive spots that become painful and are more prone to cavities.

While chemicals may be problematic on their own, little is known of the risks with combined exposure, to which we are all exposed. The current study exposed rats to a daily dose of BPA that’s equivalent to normal human BPA exposure. But they also exposed them to a daily dose of BPA and vinclozolin together – again, equivalent to normal human exposure.

It was the combination of chemicals that changed the expression of two genes responsible for controlling the mineralization of tooth enamel.

Since tooth enamel begins in the third trimester of pregnancy and ends at the child’s age of five, researchers warn that their exposure to these chemicals should be avoided until after that developmental period. This “would be one way,” noted the study’s lead author, “of reducing the risk of enamel weakening.”

But clearly, these hormone disruptors aren’t just a problem for kids’ teeth. They’re associated with hormonal interference in all humans and may increase the risk of birth defects, cancer, fertility issues, and more in all ages.

If you’re concerned and want to limit your exposure to the chemicals in plastics, create your own toolbox with help from plastic-free blogs such as this and this.

Looking to avoid foods treated with dangerous chemicals? Check out Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for help in selecting clean produce.

With a bit of effort, you’ll find that it is possible to limit you and your family’s exposure to these hormone disrupting chemicals.

Image by DES Daughter

Guest Post: The “Natural” Consequences of Breastfeeding

Our thanks to the office of Dr. Vern Erwin for letting us share the following post from their blog:

breastfeeding babyIs describing breastfeeding as “natural” ethically problematic? That’s the claim of a recent article in Pediatrics. Why problematic? “Natural” influences people, say the authors. “Natural” encourages people to believe something’s better or healthier. And that just can’t be!

Pardon the pun, but naturally this got our attention. After all, breastfeeding is a natural function. More, its benefits are well supported by scientific research. It’s proven the best method of infant feeding for a whole host of reasons – nutritional, immunological, and psychological.

There are dental benefits for the child, as well. Dr. Brian Palmer – an expert on the impact of breastfeeding on orofacial development – notes that in contrast to bottle feeding, breastfeeding

  • Positively affects the development of the oral cavity and airway.
  • Sets a pattern for a correct normal swallow into adulthood.
  • Encourages mandibular (jaw) development.
  • Strengthens jaw muscles.
  • Ensures lower rates of malocclusion (a misaligned or “off” bite).
  • Reduces need for orthodontics.
  • Forms U-shaped dental arch, reducing issues with snoring and sleep apnea in later life.

With all these benefits, why worry about how it’s described or perceived? And why single out the word “natural” as the problem? Writing about their paper in a guest blog on Philly.com, the authors worry that

invoking “the natural way”…plays into a view that “natural” approaches to health and parenting are inherently better and healthier, an argument wielded by the anti-vaccination movement to the detriment of public health.

And there it is: guilt by association. Looking for “natural” options such as breastfeeding may sway people away from vaccinations. This weirdly sets up breastfeeding as a kind of gateway drug, leading women astray with its seductive appeal to The Natural.

This is insulting to women. And it’s also potentially harmful. The authors of one response to the paper – two pediatricians and a neonatalist – make the point clearly.

Choosing our words carefully in health promotion is important, but even more important is the effect our words have on the desired health outcomes. Just as the authors are concerned about a theoretical effect of breastfeeding promotion on vaccine rates, we are concerned about the effect of their article, and other similar articles, on breastfeeding promotion and rates.

“The ideal way to connect breastfeeding with vaccinations,” they add, “is to highlight breastfeeding as the ‘first immunization’ recognizing the abundant immune protective factors present in breastmilk, and especially in colostrum.”

Thus, campaigns like the Office on Women’s Health’s “It’s Only Natural,” which promotes breastfeeding to African-American families – the demographic least likely to breastfeed even as they face the greatest burden of adverse health outcomes. The word “natural” was chosen precisely to convey the achievability of breastfeeding for these mothers.

It’s hard not to see the rhetorical attack on “natural” as an unfortunate attempt to further a pro-vaccine agenda at the expense of promoting breastfeeding. Ironically, in trying to neutralize dissent toward vaccines, the authors’ work may actually result in taking away the “first immunization” benefit infants receive from breastfeeding.

Sadly, this would leave the most vulnerable population of mothers and children at risk for poorer health outcomes.

Image by ohkylel @twitter

The Dental Benefits of Breastfeeding

baby with first toothWhen it comes to infant health and development, breast, as they say, is best. And you may already know that breastfeeding lowers a baby’s risk of things like SIDS, allergies, asthma, ear infections, severe lower respiratory infections, obesity, pneumonia and more.

But did you also know it also supports good orofacial and dental development?

According to a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association, children who breastfeed “may develop a more favorable occlusion [bite – the way the teeth come together] in the primary dentition.” A more recent study, published earlier this summer in Pediatrics, found that there may be even greater improvement for infants who breastfeed exclusively for longer periods. As WebMD reported,

The risk of overbite was one-third lower for those who exclusively breast-fed for three to six months compared to those who didn’t, the findings showed. If they breast-fed at least six months or more, the risk of overbite dropped by 44 percent.

Similarly, children who exclusively breast-fed for three months to six months were 41 percent less likely to have moderate to severe misalignment of the teeth. Breast-feeding six months or longer reduced their risk by 72 percent.

But they also found that pacifier use interfered with this healthy development – as can other habits such as thumb-sucking or physical impediments such as a tongue-tie. The former, of course, can be broken, while tongue-tie can be alleviated through a surgical procedure known as frenectomy.

How can something so simple as breastfeeding have such an effect on how the teeth come in? As myofunctional therapist and dental hygienist Carol Vander Stoep describes it in her book Mouth Matters,

The coordination required for an infant to swallow and breathe at the same time while breastfeeding is also a critical step in learning correct swallow patterns. In a proper swallow, the lips touch together lightly. The lower jaw moves slightly upward to touch the upper teeth. The tongue lightly moves up and reinforces the good arch form. There is minimal TM/jaw joint compression. Good breathing and swallowing habits maintain the balance of forces.

Babies who breastfeed and develop proper swallowing patterns and facial structure generally have more prominent cheekbones, less constricted sinuses, and a larger eye orbit that allows the eyeball to develop a proper shape. This improves chances of good eyesight. They also develop far fewer ear infections. Children with deep dental overbites are 2.8 times more likely to have ear tubes placed.

On the other hand, the tongue of a bottle-feeding baby creates a strong vacuum against the roof of the mouth and at the back of the throat. This can form a very high palatal vault, reduce the width of the arch, and constrict the sinuses and airway.

There’s also evidence that breastfeeding may protect your child against caries. A new review of the science in Acta Paediatrica found that children who were breastfed more through their first year had a lower risk of developing caries. However, they also found that those who breastfed beyond that time had a higher risk, particularly if they fed at night or more frequently. What they couldn’t say is what role other habits – diet, hygiene and such – might be at work in elevating risk. There just wasn’t enough evidence to say.

Regardless, we do know that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any negatives. As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, it’s not just a lifestyle choice. It’s a matter of public health.

Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition. Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.

Image by Daniel

Amalgam, Mercury & the Developing Brain

One argument you hear some dentists make in defense of amalgam is that it’s a sturdier, stronger and more forgiving material to work with. They may point to studies such as the one recently published in the European Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, which found that amalgam fillings were less prone to failure than composite (by a little) or glass ionomer (by a lot).

But to focus on this issue completely sidesteps the fact that amalgam is 50% mercury. And that mercury is a known neurotoxin, with no safe level of exposure. And that mercury vapor is constantly released from these fillings only to be methylated in the mouth and elsewhere in the body. And that this is happening mere inches from the brain.

Now consider that the human brain is not fully developed until a person is in their mid-20s. Does it seem wise to put this material into the mouths of children or even teens?

human brain development

Heavy metal toxicity, notes DAMS, has been linked to a many neurological and behavioral problems in children, including:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Obsessive/compulsive disorders.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Cognitive impairments.
  • ADHD.
  • Autism.
  • Seizures.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences looked at the relationship between neurobehavioral changes and changes of gene expression in response to a variety of mercury exposures. “Since the developing brain is extremely vulnerable to mercury toxicity,” wrote the researchers, “the repeated exposure of fetuses and neonates to Hg0 affects neurobehavioral functions.”

The results of the present study also indicate that an increase in the number of altered genes in the brain may be involved in the emergence of neurobehavioral effects, which may be associated with the concentration of mercury in the brain. An increase in the number of genes with altered expression levels implies that changes have occurred in the internal environment of the brain, which may be closely associated with the emergence of neurotoxicity.

A 2011 study in the Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care explains that chronic mercury exposure is problematic at any growth stage.

Because important systems are still differentiating and growing, children have unique susceptibilities not seen in adults—and critical time windows for those susceptibilities. The critical times are preconception, gestation, and postnatal. More than 1 system can be susceptible and different pathology may occur depending on the dose and timing of exposure. The fetus and infant are especially vulnerable to mercury exposures. Of special interest is the development of the central nervous system. With the formation of neuronal cells and the subsequent stages of development, the central nervous system is created. Damage of the nervous system caused by mercury is likely to be permanent. Neurotoxic effects can result from prenatal or early postnatal exposure.

Mercury from amalgam fillings is just one of the largest sources of exposure. Even if the child never has such fillings, they – like all of us – are still affected by mercury pollution from dental offices (mercury entering the water supply) and crematorium emissions. This is above and beyond other industrial pollution and mercury in seafood.

Is it any wonder rates of childhood neurological conditions have skyrocketed?

Fortunately, there are safe and durable alternatives to amalgam when fillings are called for. And there’s an even better alternative to those: a truly comprehensive preventive approach so that fillings are never needed at all.