9 Ways to RUIN your dental fitness

Army dentist, Capt. Cierra Diamse, a general dentist assigned to the Wiesbaden Dental Clinic, performs dental work on a soldier during a field training exercise held recently at Baumholder, Germany. Following the 9 Ways to RUIN Your Dental Fitness assures a scene like this downrange. (U.S. Army photo by Kirk Frady)
Army dentist, Capt. Cierra Diamse, a general dentist assigned to the Wiesbaden Dental Clinic, performs dental work on a soldier during a field training exercise held recently at Baumholder, Germany. Following the 9 Ways to RUIN Your Dental Fitness assures a scene like this downrange. (U.S. Army photo by Kirk Frady)

9 Ways to RUIN your dental fitness

Military Health System Communications Office

National Children’s Dental Health Month in February brings into focus the importance of good dental habits for people of all ages. For service members, dental preventive care has added importance because of its role in readiness. It is also part of the Total Force Fitness framework, which involves service members seamlessly integrating fitness of the mind, body, and spirit to maximize their capabilities for military operations. Two Navy dentists on the Defense Health Agency staff, Navy Capt. Molly Jenkins and Lt. Cmdr. Michael Bohman, shared the following dental health information—from a different perspective.

  1. Ignore your teeth (and they’ll go away).

Do this instead: Brush and floss. Eat right. See the dentist regularly. The health of the teeth and the rest of the mouth can profoundly affect general health. Oral problems ­ such as cavities, gum abscesses, gum disease, and bad breath ­can affect overall well-being. Maintaining dental health will enhance your quality of life.

  1. Don’t brush and don’t floss.

Do this instead: Brush twice a day—after breakfast and at bedtime—for two minutes with a soft-bristled brush. Use a fluoride toothpaste. Also floss once a day to remove plaque between teeth. Flossing lessens the chances of gum disease and tooth decay. Floss either before or after brushing. “Brushing without flossing is like skipping your arm pits in the shower; you get what everyone sees but miss where it's really needed,” said Bohman.

  1. Skip your dental appointments.

Do this instead: See the dentist without fail annually as required for active duty or up to twice a year for civilians. Not going to the dentist regularly means risking buildup of excessive plaque and tartar. These can cause oral diseases. That’s why teeth cleaning is a critical part of a dental visit, along with the exam. And keep every single follow-up appointment if treatment is required. As a service member, readiness is an individual responsibility and therefore a priority.

  1. Use smokeless tobacco – lots of it.

Do this instead: Drop smokeless tobacco, which can cause mouth, throat, and pancreatic cancer, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. From the dental perspective, sugar often is added to enhance flavor and, depending on the brand, a can of smokeless tobacco equals two cans of sugary soda, according to Jenkins. Smokeless tobacco also can irritate the gums, causing gum disease and bone loss. Furthermore, smokeless tobacco usually contains sand and grit, which can wear teeth down and result in tooth sensitivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s oral health guidance says use of any tobacco product should stop.

  1. Drink lots of sugary energy drinks – every day.

Do this instead: Skip energy drinks. They are high in bacteria-feeding sugar and the carbonation is acidic. "With its impressive chemical cocktail of sugary goodness and acidic ooze, energy drinks are sure to leave their mark on unsuspecting teeth,” Bohman said. Energy drinks also contribute to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, three health concerns across the services. Tap water still reigns supreme for dental health. It rinses away leftover food particles. The fluoride in tap water helps reduce tooth decay and prevent cavities. Second choice options are unsweetened tea, milk, plain sparkling water, and juice. But avoid juice that doesn’t require refrigeration before use. It has acidic preservatives.

  1. Use your teeth as tools, like bottle openers and nail trimmers. And have lots of hard candy.

Do this instead: Always use a bottle opener, nail scissors, and other appropriate tools. Tearing apart packages or turning soda caps with your teeth can break a tooth. Chewing on hard objects ­ such as ice, popcorn kernels, pens, and pencils ­ can chip or crack teeth. So can hard candy. “Jawbreakers were aptly named,” Bohman said, adding that a cracked tooth can be very painful and may require a root canal and crown. It may even need to be pulled. That could weaken a service member’s readiness, and that of the unit. Teammates should remind each other against abusing their teeth.

  1. Never mind using a mouth guard when you participate in sports, even in practice.

Do this instead: Always use a properly fitted mouth guard for contact sports, even in practice. That is especially applicable for football, basketball, soccer, boxing, handball, and lacrosse. Also consider mouth guards for limited-contact athletics.

  1. Weightlifters: Clench your teeth as hard as you can.

Do this instead: Use a mouth guard. It will prevent worn enamel, cracks in teeth (which can become cavities) and losing pieces of teeth.

  1. Eat bad food all the time.

Do this instead: Have a diet that is good for teeth, overall health, readiness, and mission performance. Eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups: whole grains; fruits; vegetables; lean protein (fish, lean beef, skinless poultry); and dry beans, peas, and other legumes. Also recommended are low-fat and fat-free dairy foods. And drink plenty of water.

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