ADHA/Wrigley help hygienists educate about importance of diet, oral care

December 7, 2015

It’s common knowledge that eating the wrong things can be bad for one’s teeth – especially if proper oral hygiene is not observed afterward. However, the changing face of Americans’ diet has an impact beyond candy and cavities.

It’s common knowledge that eating the wrong things can be bad for one’s teeth – especially if proper oral hygiene is not observed afterward. However, the changing face of Americans’ diet has an impact beyond candy and cavities.

To help combat this problem, the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) have partnered to provide dental hygienists with resources and information to help patients improve their oral and overall health.

The campaign aims to help dental hygienists start a conversation with their patients about doing the “Daily Four” - brushing teeth twice daily, flossing each day, rinsing with an antimicrobial mouth rinse and chewing sugar-free gum after eating or drinking when brushing isn’t possible.

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The oral environment

We know to take care with sweet, sticky foods, but other foods have an impact on oral health, as well.

While most people know about the connection between sugary foods and dental caries, there are other nutritional aspects to consider regarding oral health,” says ADHA President Jill Rethman, RDH, BA. “For example, calcium and vitamin D are important building blocks for strong teeth and bones. Milk and other dairy products contain protein and are full of calcium, which help keep teeth healthy and strong. In addition these products are low in sugar – an added bonus for oral health. Meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs help to strengthen your teeth, as these foods also contain valuable protein. Vitamin C helps maintain healthy tissues, including gingival tissues, so fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C are beneficial. And fruits and vegetables are high in water and fiber as well. In fact, vitamins A, D and E and the B vitamins all play crucial roles in maintaining healthy tissues. Therefore, a diet containing optimal amounts of these vitamins is important for good periodontal health.”

In between meals and snacks, chewing a sugar-free gum provides important oral health benefits.

“The act of chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva production, and this helps maintain a healthy oral environment since saliva has protective qualities against decay,” adds Rethman. “So when a healthy snack isn’t available, chewing sugar-free gum can be a good option.”

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Unfortunately, our habits have led to increasingly more dangerous food consumption.

“As diets change and people snack more frequently, there is greater consumption of sodas, isotonic drinks and juices,” says Rethman. “In particular, sports drinks are commonplace – especially in younger individuals who are active. Most people are unaware that their sports drink might contain seven to 14 teaspoons of sugar. Sugar is not only cariogenic, but high sugar intake is a contributing factor to obesity. There are low-sugar options available, but water – especially fluoridated water – is the best beverage you can sip on to maintain your oral health. Fluoride helps improve resistance to caries. The ADHA supports the continued use of community water fluoridation as it aligns with our mission to improve the public’s oral and overall health.”

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Diet matters

In addition to foods with a direct connection to oral health, other foods impact overall health, which can affect oral health.

“While we know that reducing sugary foods is beneficial, we are also looking at decreasing the inflammatory process throughout the body to improve overall health,” says Rethman. “And since inflammation is a strong component in periodontal diseases, reducing the inflammatory process might have a positive effect on periodontal health.”

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An article published in ADHA’s Access magazine, “Inflammation and Diet: The Dental Hygienist’s Role,” recommended reducing or avoiding the following foods, since they promote inflammation:

  • Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils

  • Processed and fast foods

  • Sugar and simple carbohydrates

  • Animal products (evaluate these and determine if they can be reduced)

  • Alcohol (only in moderation)

These foods fight inflammation and are recommended:

  • Fresh, minimally processed foods

  • Foods rich in antioxidants

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids

  • Fiber

  • Probiotics

  • Herbs, spices, and teas

“Ultimately, consuming a diet rich in nutrients and in a variety of colors (such as green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits) can achieve not only good oral health outcomes but good overall health outcomes as well,” adds Rethman.

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The initiative

 The Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program and ADHA have a longstanding partnership to help promote oral health, and this year’s initiative focuses on the Daily Four.

“For the sixth straight year the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program partnered with ADHA  to provide dental hygienists and the public they serve with a wide range of resources and information as part of National Dental Hygiene Month (NDHM),” says Caroline Sherman, Senior Manager of External Affairs, Wrigley. “The focus of the campaign is on helping dental hygienists start a conversation about the Daily Four: brushing twice a day, flossing daily, rinsing with mouthwash and chewing sugar-free gum.  When brushing isn’t possible after eating or drinking, chewing sugar-free gum, like Orbit®, can help keep teeth clean and strong by stimulating saliva, which is a way to help protect teeth.”

 “The Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program is dedicated to providing educational resources and Orbit sugar-free gum samples to dental offices,” she adds. “We also have a website, wrigleyoralhealth.com, which has information about the science behind the benefits of chewing sugar-free gum and resources for dental professionals to educate themselves, their staff, and their patients.”

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Start the conversation

Hygienists are encouraged to start discussions with their patients about the Daily Four, since patients naturally look to them for guidance and care.

“In January 2015, Wrigley surveyed more than 1,000 dental professionals and 1,000 patients to understand what patients are looking for in a dental visit,” says Sherman. “The survey showed how important dental professional-to-patient conversations are, with oral hygiene ranking as the number one topic that patients (62 percent) and dental professionals (70 percent) want to talk about.”

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“Since dental hygienists form close relationships with their patients, ongoing communication at each recare appointment can help determine the best way to start a conversation about nutrition and oral health,” adds Rethman. “Asking open-ended questions creates a mutual dialogue and can assist the dental hygienist to identify ‘hot buttons’ that appeal to each patient. Some patients might be concerned about healthy eating habits more for esthetic reasons (such as maintaining an ideal weight to look good), while others might be concerned about overall health issues.”

Ultimately, the foods we eat have an important impact both on oral and overall health, and hygienists are the first, best educational resource.

“As health care providers, educating patients about how food choices impact health – and knowing how to help make recommendations to improve their patients’ lives – is an important role for dental hygienists,” says Rethman. “As we all know, the mouth is connected to the body, and patients appreciate when we show concern for their overall well-being.”