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young girl smilingA new report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that less than half of all children in the US are getting “preventive dental services” – particularly older teens and the very young. “In 2009,” reports Dr. Bicuspid,

more than half (56%) of children and adolescents did not visit the dentist in the past year, and nearly 9 of 10 (86%) children and adolescents did not receive a dental sealant or a topical fluoride application in the past year.

Dental visits, fluoride and sealants? That’s a pretty narrow definition of “prevention.”

Fluoride’s benefit is arguable, especially in light of its risks and, where there’s fluoridation, the ease with which you can overdo it.

Sure, regular dental visits are important, but getting your child’s teeth professionally checked and scrubbed once every 6 months isn’t enough to override poor diet, oral hygiene and other factors.

Absolutely, sealants can be helpful in preventing cavities in deep grooves and crevices, but they, too, are only a partial solution.

Effective prevention happens mostly outside the dental office. As one physician recently put it in his keynote address at the 2014 Oral Health Conference in Alabama,

“Prevention is the word….” [A]nd it shouldn’t fall to just the dentists and dental hygienists. Other health care professionals, including nurses, physician assistants and pediatricians, can be part of prevention interventions; so too can daycare workers, teachers and Head Start personnel.

But most of it happens with you. At home. Above all, it takes a daily commitment to making healthful choices.

There’s so much you can do to prevent cavities and other oral health problems – for yourself and by teaching your children healthy habits.. Here’s a quick list:

  • Eat well. It’s no secret that eating too many sugars and refined carbohydrates – the stuff that so many hyper-processed foods is made of – raises your risk of cavities and periodontal disease. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of your daily calories – about 50 grams – come from sugar. But to prevent tooth decay, new research suggests a 3% max.
  • Brush and floss regularly, making sure you clean every surface.
  • Relax. Stress makes us more prone to disease and dysfunction of all kinds. Make sure you take some time to relax each day, whether it’s doing yoga, writing in a journal, or chilling to your favorite music.
  • Avoid drugs – all kinds, including tobacco. Tobacco has an especially pernicious effect on the mouth, contributing to gum disease and, ultimately, tooth loss.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep rejuvenates your body and replenishes your energy levels. Without enough sleep, your body can’t do everything that it needs to do to keep you healthy.
  • Exercise. Just as a car won’t run well if it’s not used, so, too, your body. We were designed to move! (And yes, we’ve seen those recent headlines insisting that exercise is bad for your teeth, but the vast majority of people don’t exercise enough to experience the problems that some elite athletes do. )

All these suggestions should sound familiar. They’re the stuff that promotes a healthy mind, spirit, body and mouth. (The mouth is connected to the rest of you, after all!) Whenever you take these steps, you are committing to yourself. Your body will reward your for smart choices.

Image by suzi quiban

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