“The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth provides an even better view of the body as a whole,” began an importantly instructive article in the health section of December 27th issue of The Wall Street Journal. The article covered a wide range of diseases that could be diagnosed by dental examination, and spotlighted the role that gum disease can cause well beyond disease in the mouth itself. Growing research in recent years are demonstrating that gingivitis, a common inflammatory condition in the gums–serious enough for its gum damage–can play an important etiologic role in cardiovascular disease, infections, and many other systemic conditions.
This piece by the Journal’s health columnist Melinda Beck was not a pediatric article. There was no mention of children at all. But the whole subject of gingival health and appreciation of its importance is enormously important in child heath care. It is represents an excellent example of early preventive care and the establishment of early and hopefully lifelong oral health habits. The most visible arena of preventive health in children is, of course, is prevention of obesity, with pediatricians counselling patients and their parents about diet, exercise,etc. from a very early age, in an effort to prevent the many serious effects of overweight later in life. But the emphasis on healthful lifestyle practices and the establishment of good habits has become ever-wider in scope in recent years, with “anticipatory guidance” being a regular part of pediatric checkups.
And, it is in this sense that, although an adult article, this WSJ piece carries a highly valuable application in children as well. It was serious enough when poor oral hygiene and lack of flossing caused “only” gingivitis, local gum disease. But as the far wider and more serious ramifications become recognized and well documented–a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even more–the importance of good dental habits (the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this posting.) This include the obvious, limiting concentrated sugar foods, regular brushing, regular dental visits, but in addition we really start stressing early–and making it a real habit. Flossing is an unusually clear example of a very simple, essentially cost-free, practice can yield huge health dividends later in life. A few inches of string and a few seconds a day. So relatively simple, and so, so important.
Postscript: the full article from the WSJ can probably be accessed via the link http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203686204577112893077146940.html In addition, the February 2012 issue of Consumer Reports has an excellent article, “Dental Do’s and Don’ts.”