Oral Health

Help Your Family Achieve Optimal Oral Health

Chicago - Research suggests periodontal disease can pass through saliva. This means that the common contact of saliva in families may put children and couples at risk for contracting the periodontal disease of another family member.

"If one family member has periodontal disease, all family members should see a dental professional for a periodontal screening," said Litvin, DDS, a local periodontist and member of the American Academy of Periodontology. "Periodontal disease is not just an adult health problem."

In fact, studies indicate that gingivitis is nearly a universal finding in children and adolescents. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a bacterial gum infection that progresses over time. Evidence shows that periodontal disease may increase during adolescence due to hormonal changes related to puberty. Some experts say this is because teenagers lack the initiative to practice good oral hygiene.

"Encourage young children to maintain good at-home oral health habits such as brushing and flossing, and these habits will carry into adolescence and adulthood", said Dr Litvin. "For example, parents may want to reward children with visits from the tooth fairy not just when a tooth is lost, but also when a child receives a clean bill of health from the dentist."

Parents should not only remind children to brush and floss, but also each other. Periodontal disease is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults, and has been linked to serious health threats such as diabetes, cardiovascular, respiratory disease and preterm low birth weight babies.

"Family members should drink plenty of fluoridated water and milk for calcium," said Dr Litvin. Bottled water may be missing the fluoridation that is added to public water systems. Children who drink adequately fluoridated water have up to 50 percent fewer cavities than those who do not. And, low levels of calcium intake can also be linked to periodontal disease. Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant should consider a visit to a periodontist. About a quarter of childbearing age women have periodontitis, and this can put their unborn babies at risk of being born premature and underweight.

"It is important that family members don't forget the basics. Replace toothbrushes every few months or when the bristles begin to look frayed," said Dr. Litvin "Floss daily to break up the bacterial colonies between teeth that can cause periodontal disease. And, seek dental care for professional cleanings, as well as screenings for periodontal disease."