By LORI SERNA BS, RDH, MED
Are you one of those people who cringe every time you receive a reminder from your dental office telling you it is time for your yearly check-up? If so, you are not alone. Many people dislike dental visits and hold their breath when they see their dentist. Most people are ok with the regular cleaning appointment. It is the dental exam that holds the most anticipation. “Will they find a cavity? One? Two? I sure hope no more than that!” This is what goes through most patient’s minds.
The culprit of dental cavities is bacteria that lives in our mouth; we commonly refer to it as dental plaque. Dental plaque begins to build on our teeth as soon as 20 minutes after eating. If this plaque is not removed thoroughly and routinely, dental cavities can start. The acid in plaque wears away the enamel surface of the tooth and begins to make holes in the tooth. Cavities usually don’t hurt until they grow very large and involve the nerves.
By now most people know how to take care of their teeth. Brush twice a day and floss once a day is all you have to do to have a healthy beautiful smile. Right? Well that is not all. If you want to take it a one step further, avoid eating in between meals.
Every time we eat a meal, the environment in our mouth changes from neutral to acidic and so it increases the chances of getting a dental cavity. Your mouth will remain acidic for several hours after eating, so snacking is more likely to lead to caries.
You also can reduce the amount of acid in your mouth by eating sugary or starchy foods less often during the day. The more you snack the more time the acids are in contact with the enamel, therefore having a greater opportunity to make a cavity.
Sticky foods as well as sweets are best if eaten during mealtime, to avoid dental cavities. Sticky foods such as chips, and raisins are more harmful because they remain on the surface of the teeth longer.
If you must snack, brush if possible, or rinse the mouth with water after eating. Also keep in mind avoid constant sipping of sugary drinks, including milk, coffee or tea, and especially soda which is very acidic. Don’t suck on candy or mints unless they are sugar-free. Chewing gum that contains xylitol helps to neutralize the acid that occurs after eating.
Remember to eat a healthy balanced diet to help your body build strong muscles as well as bones and healthy teeth and gums. Dairy products provide calcium and vitamin D for strengthening teeth and bones. Breads and cereal supply B vitamins for growth and iron for healthy blood, which in turn contributes to healthy gum tissue. Fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C (among other important vitamins) are essential to maintaining healthy gums. Lean meat, fish, poultry and beans provide iron and protein for overall good health, and magnesium and zinc for teeth and bones.
In celebration of October being National Dental Hygiene Month, the SDA Dental Clinic is offering free dental exams to new patients. Please call 234-6323 for an appointment.
Lori Serna is a dental hygienist who works with Saipan’s SDA Dental Clinic on increasing dental health awareness throughout the CNMI.