Summer vacation is here, the kids are out of school, and many of us have abandoned at least some of our structured daily routines for lazy and fun-filled days free from super-strict scheduling.
But as you are busy with your families, spending time at the pool, enjoying tasty cook-outs, going on vacation, or just hanging out around the house, it is important to remember that when it comes to our health, it’s not okay to take a break from our usual schedules.
One thing that can be easy to slack off on during summer vacation is regularly brushing your teeth. But according to Dr. Travis Stork, one of the physicians featured on the syndicated medical talk show “The Doctors”, good oral hygiene is important every day of the year.
“Number one, don’t ignore brushing your teeth—brush your teeth twice daily,” Stork said during a video-taped interview. “Floss daily, and stay hydrated with the right kinds of beverages; so you are staying hydrated with good old-fashioned water and non-sugar fluids, which is going to keep your saliva production up, which helps prevent cavities and prevent gum disease.”
Stork said that it’s best to stick with basic beverages like plain water because it will not create a welcoming environment in your mouth for bacteria to flourish.
“If throughout the day during summer you’re drinking sugary beverages—things like fruit juice and sodas loaded with sugar—that creates a milieu in your mouth where bacteria thrive and they eat off that sugar all day long, creating an acidic environment that eats away at your tooth enamel,” he said. “That’s not a good thing, particularly for your kids.”
Stork knows that most kids also love to feast on sugary snacks. Although he does not expect or ask parents to deny their children these treats all of the time, he did offer advice on the best way to handle serving these sweet treats.
“If they are sequentially spread throughout the day, that means all day long your mouth and your kids’ mouths are exposed to sugar, so give them spot snacks so you know that all day long they don’t have sugar coating their teeth,” he said.
As often as possible, Stork added, kids and parents should take advantage of the bounty of summertime produce that is not only high in fiber, but rich in nutrients like vitamin C that can encourage healthy gums.
“I always say in the summer months to enjoy fruits and vegetables that are in season because they are loaded with fiber and they are loaded with vitamins and a lot of fruits and vegetables are loaded with water as well.”
The reason Stork is so passionate about taking proper care of your teeth is because as an emergency room physician, he frequently sees real-life evidence of how oral health is a key to overall health.
“I don’t want to make it overly complex, but good overall health is linked to good oral health and vice versa. What people don’t realize is that if you have poor oral health it can lead to bad health outcomes; things like heart attacks, stroke, and pre-term birth,” he said.
“As an emergency room doctor this link between oral health and overall health is really important to me. I take care of people who just had a heart attack. I take care of people who often say to me ‘if only I had known.’ So I’m really emphasizing to everyone to really take care of their oral health before it’s too late.”
The way that poor oral hygiene can lead to serious health issues is due to the previously-mentioned bacteria that call our mouths home.
Stork said that although our mouths are relatively small, compared to the rest of our bodies, they are “teeming” with bacteria. While this is normally not a problem for most people, if we do not brush at least twice a day, floss regularly, and watch the amount of sugar we eat and drink, the bacteria population can go haywire and start to accumulate.
“They form plaque and tartar and you develop severe gum disease,” he said. “What it does is it creates this pro-inflammatory state and we think this inflammatory state occurs throughout your body which is why there is a potentially increased risk of heart attacks and strokes because inflammation in the mouth, believe it or not, could lead to inflammation elsewhere in your body.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, Stork is right on target with his concerns. The CDC’s webpage on oral health stated that periodontal disease “may be connected to damage elsewhere in the body.” In addition, it said that children who suffer from tooth decay can cause not only discomfort but missed days of school and problems focusing.
The CDC’s webpage also noted that “tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2-5 and half of those 12-15.” Also, four to 12 percent of adults have “advanced gum disease.”
Regardless of the time of year, Stork hopes parents will make oral health a priority for everyone in the house.
“As an emergency room physician, as much as anything else, if I told you you could take steps in your life today to prevent your own visit to the emergency room department, would you do it? And I think a lot of your would say ‘yes, what can I do?’, he said.
“The message today with oral health is ‘don’t ignore it’ because your oral health is related to your overall health.”
Taped interview with Dr. Travis Stork, June 16, 2011: http://bcove.me/ua92mov5
Reviewed June 28, 2011