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Published on April 06, 2018

Oral HealthThe Importance of Oral Health: Kids, Bad Breath and Cancer

In this series:

Kid's Dental Health

A healthy oral hygiene routine is important for all ages, but it is especially important for children to help prevent problems in the future. In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child’s first dental visit take place at age 1 or within six months of their first tooth. This first visit helps families establish a relationship with their dentist, learn about good habits for their newest addition and sets a baseline for their dentist to compare to as they grow and develop. If anything seems out of place or abnormal, their dentist can recommend the best next steps.

Establishing that relationship early can give parents another resource to rely on as their children grow. Toddlers fall a lot as they learn to walk and having a dentist to call if they get hurt can be a big relief.

Regular dental cleanings normally start around age three, but tooth brushing should start as soon as the first tooth arrives. Cavity prevention should start early and is important even before adult teeth come in. Cavities, or tooth decay, are more common in children than adults and can lead to serious problems if they aren’t treated. Oral hygiene and our diet contribute to the formation of cavities. When you eat or drink sugary foods, the bacteria in your mouth produce acids that attack tooth enamel. This is when cavities can form. Grazing throughout the day can also put you at risk for developing cavities since acid is being created throughout the day instead of at certain times.

Good oral hygiene involves:

  • Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Cleaning between your teeth daily with floss.
  • Eating nutritious meals and limiting snacking.
  • Visiting your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination.

All children are different, which is why it’s important to make regular checkups with your child’s dentist so they can determine what is best for their needs.

Dr. Naomi Lane is a pediatric dentist in Greensboro and a member of Cone Health Medical Staff.

Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, can be embarrassing and unpleasant. In most cases, bad breath can be avoided with simple changes of diet or hygiene habits, but it can also be a sign of an underlying issue. Regular visits to your dentist are important, as they’ll check your mouth for any possible issues, including bad breath, and can help you find a solution.

Bad breath can be caused by a variety of things, including food (onion and garlic), improper oral hygiene, smoking, dry mouth or as a side effect of certain medications. To help avoid bad breath, incorporate these hygiene practices into your routine:

  • Brush your teeth after you eat
  • Floss daily
  • Brush your tongue
  • Drink plenty of water

Mouthwash or chewing gum can be used as a quick fix, but it’s important not to go overboard or to rely solely on them for fresh breath. The alcohol in mouthwash can dry out the mouth, leading to more bad breath. If you are doing all of these things, you may want to consider switching to a natural based toothpaste for a similar reason. Proper oral hygiene is the best way to avoid bad breath and many other oral health problems.

If you’ve tried making hygiene changes and nothing works, it may be a symptom of a larger issue, and it’s time to talk to your dentist or your primary care provider. They’ll look for:

  • Cavities
  • Abscesses
  • Adenoid and/or tonsil stones that form in the back of the mouth
  • Cuts, spots or lesions made from biting the inside of your mouth
  • If saliva is being produced normally

They may also exam your head and neck for anything unusual that might signify cancer or test for diabetes, which can cause excessive thirst. If you smoke, consider quitting since smoking can cause bad breath and increase your risk of developing cancer.

Dr. Zoe Stallings is a family medicine physician with Primary Care at Pomona and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancers are those found in the mouth, throat, tongue, and tonsil (oropharynx). Generally, the primary causes of oral cancers are tobacco products and excessive alcohol use. In recent years, however, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has increasingly been identified as a cause of oral cancers. HPV is most often associated with cervical cancer and genital warts, but two particular types of HPV – types 16 and 18 – have been found to cause oral cancers. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that affects both men and women. In most cases, the body’s immune system fights off an HPV infection, but when this is not the case, an HPV cancer can develop years after an infection.

Signs and symptoms of oral cancer can include:

  • A persistent sore throat
  • pain when swallowing
  • earaches
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • hoarseness

While these are common symptoms of many ailments, a good rule of thumb is to see your primary care provider if symptoms last for more than 2 weeks. Keep track of any unusual or suspicious sores or swellings that you experience and bring them to the attention of your healthcare provider. Oral cancers can also be found during routine dental check-ups and annual physicals, which is why it’s very important to make and keep these wellness appointments.

In general, to prevent oral cancers you should also avoid all tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption. With more and more cancer cases being caused by HPV, the most effective method of preventing the disease is to receive the HPV vaccine. It is recommended that HPV vaccines are administered between the ages of 11 to 12 in both males and females, but can be given as late as age 21 for males and 26 for females. The two vaccines for HPV that are currently available are Gardasil and Cervarix, and each requires two or three doses, six months apart to be effective. It is not a mandatory vaccine, but it is the best way to prevent cervical cancer in women, and prevent the occurrence and spread of other cancers associated with HPV in all individuals.

Rick Diehl is a head and neck oncology navigator at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long Hospital.

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