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The Surprising Connection Between Snacking and Your Smile

Sugar isn't the only culprit; "time on teeth" more important than people realize

SEATTLE, Dec. 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Instead of an expensive gym membership or investing in costly beauty treatments to improve your appearance, consider a resolution to change your snacking habits.  It can improve your health and appearance, while also saving you money.

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The Washington Dental Service Foundation (WDSF) is working with physicians and dental and fitness experts across the state on a large-scale public awareness campaign that just hit the TV airways.  The goal of The Mighty Mouth campaign is to "Unleash the Power of Oral Health" and help people understand the importance of oral health and its connection to overall health.  A key message in the campaign is that snacking on the wrong foods between meals can cause tooth decay.  In fact, continual snacking or grazing, even on seemingly healthy foods, can lead to excessive "time on teeth."  Teeth need time to rest and repair themselves between meals. 

The state's most comprehensive survey on oral health behaviors and attitudes reveals that 61 percent of people in Washington did not know that reducing snacking is important for good oral health.  It showed that nearly half of the state's population (47%) appears to be snacking heavily enough to put their teeth at risk by coating them with food, sugar or an acidic drink like regular or diet soda, orange juice, sports drinks or wine.  Sweetened lattes, if sipped frequently throughout the day, also put teeth at risk.

"We're learning that while many people in Washington understand the connection between eating habits and their weight, a surprising number do not understand how snacking affects their oral health," said Jo Jackson, MD, Faculty Physician, Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington.  "Eating starchy foods and drinking sugary or acidic beverages throughout the day prompts acid to attack the tooth enamel.  Once tooth enamel has eroded, it leaves teeth vulnerable to a variety of problems that can be painful, costly and affect overall health. "

Preventing tooth decay improves health and every cavity avoided saves people more than $2,000 over a lifetime.

Some survey respondents around the state knew more about the connection between snacking and oral health than others.  For example, 50.5% of respondents in Yakima, 48.4% in Spokane and only 36.4% in Seattle indicated it was very or extremely important to good oral health to limit the number of times they snack.

The WDS Foundation recommends the following tips to reduce the amount of time food and drinks have on teeth:

  • If you have sweet treats or drinks consume them at meal times. Limit sugary and acidic drinks and starchy foods between meals.
  • If you have a snack, eat it all at once instead of nibbling over time.   It not just the quantity or type of snacks that affects oral health, it is also the frequency.
  • Drink water, especially fluoridated water, between meals and after snacks to rinse the food/sugar off your teeth.
  • Brush teeth twice a day and floss daily.  Flossing cleans about 40 percent of your tooth surfaces.
  • Choose "tooth friendly" healthy snacks such as carrots, fruit, nuts or cheese.

"People may be surprised that even snacks that seem healthy, such as bagels, granola bars and raisins, can negatively impact your oral health," said Eve Rutherford, DDS and Board Chair of Washington Dental Service Foundation.  "If you're going to snack, do it all at once as opposed to munching frequently throughout the day.  After snacking it's important to drink and swish water to rinse off your teeth."

The Mighty Mouth campaign features an unlikely Tooth Fairy and "complimentary" floss to help people understand the importance of oral health and its connection to overall health.  Click here to view the television ads.  The campaign, which includes advertising, social media and partnerships with retailers, physician offices, hospitals and gyms, is designed to help people value their oral health and motivate them to do more to prevent oral disease and stay healthy.  One of the commercials takes place in a gym with a trainer who says "You're more fit if your mouth is fit."

To learn more, visit www.TheMightyMouth.org

About Washington Dental Service Foundation

Washington Dental Service Foundation is a non-profit funded by Delta Dental of Washington, the leading dental benefits company in Washington.  The Foundation works with partners to develop and execute innovative programs and public policies that produce permanent changes in the healthcare arena and improve the public's long-term oral health.  The Foundation focuses on children and seniors, two groups especially vulnerable to oral disease.

SOURCE Washington Dental Service Foundation

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