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National Children’s Dental Health Month

Oral Health and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is affecting countless lives and communities across Texas and the country. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that opiods are the cause of more than 130 overdose deaths in the United States each day. The economic cost exceeds $500 billion annually, according to a study from The Council of Economic Advisors.

Prescription painkillers are often necessary and useful for some medical conditions; however, these powerful drugs – such as oxycodone or codeine – come with a high risk of misuse and addiction. This is especially true for teens and young adults, in part because adolescent brains are not fully matured and are therefore more susceptible to the addictive effects of opioids.

One potentially overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic is the connection to oral health. In fact, oral health professionals write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions, including 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for adolescents, according to a UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to recognize the risks for young people – and provide a reminder for parents – about the connection between oral health and opioids.

With that in mind, here is information for people to consider:

Wisdom Teeth: More than 5 million people had their wisdom teeth removed last year, mostly teens and young adults. While the decision to remove wisdom teeth should involve professional advice from a dentist or oral surgeon, patients and parents should also be aware of the risks associated with potential exposure to opioids following this procedure. For many young people, wisdom teeth extraction often represents their first exposure to opioids, and a recent study from Stanford University found that teens can end up in a battle with opioid additional following this procedure.

Limit Supply: Other than in extreme cases, it is important to limit prescriptions for the minimum appropriate dosage and number of days, which the CDC recommends at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day. This is because the likelihood for chronic opioid use increases after the third day of use and rises rapidly thereafter, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and misuse or dependence on opioids can lead to addiction to more powerful illicit drugs.

Alternative Pain Medications: If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental procedure or another medical event, it is good to ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In many cases, these medications can be equally effective in pain management, without the risk of addiction.   

Proper Disposal: Approximately 70 percent of misused opioid prescriptions were obtained, stolen or purchased from a friend or relative, according to the CDC. That’s why it is important to keep opioids in a safe place – like a locked cabinet – and always properly dispose of unused medications. That can include returning the drugs to your pharmacy, or mixing them with water and an unappealing substance, such as cat litter, and putting in the trash (if simply thrown in the trash, unused prescription drugs can be retrieved and misused).  

 

Brush Up On Dental Hygiene for Children’s Dental Health Month

Maintaining proper oral health matters more than just keeping a sparkling smile – it’s also important for good overall health. That is especially true for children, as decay in baby teeth can lead to speech problems, oral infections and damaged adult teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it ranks as the most common chronic disease among children. About 33 percent of young kids (ages 2 to 8) have cavities in their baby teeth, and 20 percent of kids in the same age group have cavities in their adult teeth, according to the CDC.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a reminder that proper dental health habits should start early for young people in Texas and nationwide.

Yet some people are unaware of recommended dental guidelines for children. A recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that just 31 percent of Americans correctly recognized that most medical professionals recommend children should visit the dentist for the first time by age one; 40 percent said the appropriate age was between two and three years old; and 27 percent said four years or older.

To help maintain proper oral health among children, here are tips to consider:

For baby’s teeth and gums:

  • Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid. When these liquids pool in a baby’s mouth, they form a sugary film on the baby’s teeth, leading to decay and infection.
  • Starting at birth, clean the baby’s gums with water and a soft cloth or child-sized toothbrush. Once a child reaches age 2, parents can start brushing a baby’s teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush and a smear-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste (no larger than a grain of rice), making sure to teach the toddler to spit out the toothpaste.
  • Schedule the baby’s first dental visit when the first tooth comes in, usually between the child’s first six to 12 months.

For children’s teeth and gums:

  • Help your child brush twice a day with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste; for children ages 3 to 6, this means a pea-sized dab. Make sure your child does not swallow toothpaste, which may expose them to too much fluoride.
  • Begin flossing when back teeth begin to come in. Toothbrush bristles cannot reach between teeth, leaving those teeth vulnerable to bacteria and decay.
  • Limit sugary snacks and drinks between meals. When sugar comes in contact with teeth, decay-causing bacteria can produce acids that damage your child’s teeth. Encourage children to eat healthy snacks, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Take your child to the dentist regularly and ask about fluoride supplements, which make the tooth enamel strong and help protect it from decay. For most children, that means visiting the dentist twice a year.
  • Sealants are plastic coatings placed on back teeth to protect them from decay, and they are sometimes covered as a preventive service by dental plans. Ask the dentist about placing sealants for your child once he/she turns 6, when molars first come in.