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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2011

Open wide Shipmates: NHCC strives for healthier smiles at Weapons Station

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer Hudson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Regular brushing and flossing is a great start on the path to overall good oral hygiene, however, having a healthy mouth means more than just showing off a nice set of pearly whites; it's a lifestyle that can help prevent more serious health issues.

Naval Health Clinic Charleston Dental is raising the bar in educating Sailors and their families about keeping smiles healthy during February's Dental Health Month at Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station.

"Education about good oral hygiene is important," said Dr. Tom Williams. "Most of us learn at a young age how to brush our teeth and keep our mouths healthy and we carry that with us into adulthood. However, many children are not taught the proper methods of brushing and flossing and unfortunately it shows as they become adults."

A healthy diet is a key component in preventing cavities, tooth decay or other mouth problems. Any food that can be broken down into high doses of sugar can lead to bacteria and plaque build-up.

"Some items we discuss with a patient is their diet, flossing and brushing habits and ways they can help prevent any further problems with their mouth," said Dr. Williams. "One thing we really emphasize is the damage that sweet drinks, colas especially, can do to patients who drink them throughout the day. It's not that they have to cut out their drink of choice, but we discuss the importance of proper cleaning after drinking beverages with high doses of sugar. This helps prevent prolonged exposure of sugar resting on their teeth and decreases the chances of getting a cavity or tooth decay.
A good analogy I like to tell my patients is that a 12-ounce can of Pepsi or Coke is equivalent to nine teaspoons of sugar whereas a diet drink has only one teaspoon," he continued. "So just by switching to a diet drink you get 1/9th of the amount of sugar."

Brushing two to three times a day helps break down sugars, bacteria and plaque build-up. It is important to remember to also brush gently along the gum line with a medium to soft bristled brush and floss to help prevent plaque-causing gingivitis left behind in between teeth.

"Flossing is as important as brushing," said Dr. Williams. "A patient can brush all day but could still have issues with their teeth if they don't floss at least once a day."

Often brushing can come as a last minute thought, leading to fast, hard brushing. Rushing through the process may seem as though you are getting the job done, however doctors at NHCC Dental stress the importance to patients about taking their time.

"We see Sailors who rush through brushing and don't get to those important hard to reach areas, so during their annual exams, we will point out those areas and educate them," said Dr. Williams. "Brushing vigorously along the gum line over a period of time will cause the gum line to recede from the tooth exposing the root or take the enamel off of the tooth, causing sensitivity and more issues later on. So, if a patient just takes those few extra minutes to brush gently, they can help prevent this from happening."

Navy-wide, Sailors are scheduled for routine examinations and cleanings each year to help prevent issues with their teeth, maintain a healthy smile and continually educate service members on proper methods to achieve overall good oral hygiene.

"Overall good oral hygiene is important," said Hospital Corpsman Seaman Jordan Craig, a dental technician at NHCC Dental that routinely cleans Sailors teeth. "If a Sailor doesn't take care of their teeth and allows the damage to increase over time, it will not only affect that Sailor, but it will affect the overall capability of the Navy. It can result in lost man-hours, decrease the effectiveness of a command or department and it can have a lasting affect that could lead to the command losing a Sailor for a length of time."