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New Challenges for Young People's Teeth

Back in the 80's when I was in dental school, many of the leaders at the universities teaching dentistry told us that the day of tooth decay was coming to an end. In recent years, sadly we have come to understand that they were not correct. As I have described in some detail in past articles, after an initial dramatic decrease in tooth decay in the 50's and 60's, decay rates have been rising ever since. Certainly, we have much less tooth decay now than in the pre fluoride era, but the rate is rising. Why?  For adults, I have spent some time explaining what we know and some on how you can prevent most tooth decay, but why is the decay rate among kids and young adults on the rise?

The more a patient knows about a disease condition, the more he can reduce its effects. With the body, knowledge truly is power. There are two social factors the experts have identified in the way we live these days that contribute quite a bit to the rise in the decay rate for young people. These two factors are: 1) not eating a sit down meal at supper time, and 2) no bed time routine or ritual.

These days, dinner time has become quite a bit different for many families than it was when I was a kid. Eating dinner together "as a family" has become pretty uncommon. Often dad (and mom too) arrive home after work at unpredictable times. Then someone has dance lessons and someone else has soccer practice--both in the evening when in the old days we would have been eating dinner. Not eating a sit down dinner means everyone grabs whatever is around on the run. The researchers found that when we eat an on the run meal, we are much more likely to eat foods that have a high content of refined carbohydrates than if we ate a more formal sit down together type of meal. Refined carbohydrates would include foods like bread, chips, and foods containing a lot of sugar. The plaque (soft white stuff on your teeth that causes tooth decay) produce a large amount of decay causing acid when we eat refined carbohydrates. Additionally, we are much less likely to brush and floss after we eat if we eat on the run.

Bed time has its own challenges.  In the old days, young people usually had a bed time ritual which included at least brushing the teeth, followed by going to bed. These days, it is much less common for young people to have either a bed time ritual,  or even a bed time.  Often people fall asleep at the computer or in front of the TV.  While asleep, there is little or no saliva.  Going to sleep for the night without brushing (and flossing) is the best way to assure maximum damage to the teeth while you sleep. It is one of those crazy self destructive human habits.

If you want to reduce ongoing damage to the teeth (and the expense of repairing cavities), make an effort to eat dinner together with the young people in your family as often as you can. Also, try to stick to some sort of before bed ritual which includes the young people cleaning their teeth every night.

Ask your dentist if you have questions about how you can prevent as much tooth decay as you can in your family.

- This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)

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