By MARILYN FAGG, guest columnist
Here’s a little quiz for you.
Assume the dental health of Brown County is equal to that of the nation. (We probably don’t have any reason to think we are healthier.)
Now, answer two questions:
How many people in Brown County have untreated tooth decay?
And how many have gum disease?
The answers can be found below. But before we get to that, let me tell you why those answers are important to your healthy smile.
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria. Most bacteria are harmless. But left unchecked by poor oral hygiene, bacteria cause decay, bad breath and ultimately, the loss of your permanent teeth. It may also be a factor in endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Oh, did I mention the cost of repairing dental damage in order to keep your pearly whites?
Luckily, you can avoid the costs and damage to your teeth in a few easy steps. Performed regularly, you will have a healthy mouth for years to come.
STEP 1: You are brushing regularly, aren’t you? Brushing is critical to get rid of plaque, the gateway to decay. If you aren’t brushing, get on it now! Pack a toothbrush and toothpaste in your gym bag. Add some challenge by balancing on one foot while brushing. Hum your school fight song, read poetry — and brush! Get a new brush every few months and use the old one to clean the treads on your running shoes.
STEP 2: Floss! “You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.” That’s dental humor, but it’s also true. Removing the plaque from between your teeth — where your toothbrush doesn’t reach — will decrease the incidence of decay and gum disease.
Use string floss or floss aids, or waxed floss if your teeth are closely set, preferably at night before or during your tooth brushing. You can floss while watching TV or rocking on the front porch or while stuck in a traffic jam.
STEP 3: Limit sugar. You know already that sugar is implicated in obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Sugar is sugar, whether it’s high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, syrup, maltose, molasses, honey, glucose, fruit juice or barley malt. And the less you put in your mouth, the less likely your teeth are to decay.
By the way, water is sugar-free, calorie-free and (virtually) free!
Granted, pizza without pop or a beer is a little dull. So use a straw with your pop to get the sugar past the teeth, drink pop or beer with the meal and don’t forget to brush later. Sipping pop, beer, juice — even coffee — for hours while you work out or work or read just bathes your teeth in bad stuff.
STEP 4: Limit energy drinks. One reason to avoid energy drinks is that many of them contain massive amounts of sugar. Rockstar has the equivalent of 20 tablespoons of sugar in a 500ml can. A survey of nearly 200 energy drinks found about half of them with as much or more sugar than Coca-Cola.
But there’s another reason a lot of these drinks are bad for you. In chemistry, pH measures the alkalinity and acidity of liquids. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Higher is alkaline; lower is acid.
Tooth enamel dissolves at a pH of 5.5. Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Red Bull have pHs in the 3.0s. Acid adds zing and shelf life to energy drinks, but it also sucks the calcium right out of tooth enamel and breaks down the enamel. Once enamel is gone, it is gone.
Do you really need all those electrolytes and additives in the energy drink? Are you that great of an athlete? Probably not. Water, with a pH of 7, will likely hydrate you just fine, and it’s free and has no calories.
So who am I hoping to reach with this message? All the people in Brown County identified by our quiz as having untreated decay or gum disease. Based on data from the Center for Disease Control, Division of Oral Health, here’s an estimate (based on national data) of the scope of the problem in our county.
Five thousand Brown Countians have untreated decay.
And more than 2,000 residents have gum disease.
I hope some of you are reading. And that brings me to my last point:
STEP 5: Get regular dental check-ups. Your dentist will look for problems and clean off accumulated plaque that causes decay and inflammation. If you have children, take them to the dentist at about 12 months of age and regularly thereafter. Whatever that costs you now, you will save money (and your dental health) long into the future.
Next time you hoist that 250 pound barbell over your head, or fling your arms wide to cross the finish line, or do the “downward dog” at the end of Tabata class, take a moment to run your tongue over your teeth. Are they clean and healthy? Have you flossed recently? What are you hydrating with?
Smile! And be well, Brown County!
Marilyn Fagg is a faithful participant in Y activities. She is the retired CFO for Dr. Rhett Fagg, pediatric dentistry, also retired. Together, they raised five cavity-free children.