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When my wife and I were in the early stages of dating, she assumed that because I am a dentist, I probably wouldn’t eat sweets. We met around the holidays. She hesitated before deciding to give me a plate of homemade cookies, anticipating a non-genuine “thank -you.” However, they were (are still are) my favorite – the peanut butter ones with the chocolate kiss on top. Much to her surprise, I wholeheartedly thanked her. And, yes, I did rinse, brush and floss that night. (Just like you do before you come to see me.)
My point is, because I am a dentist, it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy sweets now and again – just in moderation. This little phrase comes in handy in so many areas of our lives: work, exercise, Netflix watching – you get the jest. By and large, we Americans love our sweets – we sing about them, we use “sweetie” as a term of endearment. We add sugar to cereals, foo-foo coffee beverages, a bowl of naturally sweet strawberries. It’s getting a tad out of control, in my opinion. No wonder it is a tough additive to quit, because it's everywhere. Some studies show that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. (“Hard Habit to Break” by Chicago is floating through my head, but I digress.)
I’m not here to sound the alarm bell and scare you into cutting all sugar out of your diet because of what it’s doing to your teeth – but I will offer some guidance: Mindful eating is the ticket off the sugar high roller coaster. For some people, it may be an all or nothing situation. For others, partaking here and there satisfies the craving and keeps sugar indulgences in check. Figure out what works for you, personally.
Over-thinking this could also cause a spike in blood sugar. Therefore, rather than getting too clinical, I’d like to share a scenario that I frequently encounter at parties – which rarely faisl to include sugary treats. I often hear, “Can I have a can of root beer?” (My son enjoys pretending to be a ‘big guy’ when he drinks root beer.) I respond with a question, asking him whether he wants the can of soda or the brownie that’s already on his plate. (Three reasons for the question: 1) I don’t want to peel him off of the ceiling from his sugar high; 2) I have zero desire to try to put him to bed when he’s crashing; 3) I don’t want him to have a tummy troubles.) When our kids choose between enjoying a root beer or a brownie – they usually choose the brownie. I pose the question so they get the idea: a can of soda is the equivalent to having a dessert. After navigating the dessert buffet on their own as they get older, they realize that ‘Dear Old Dad’ may be onto something with his moderation suggestions. (A few post-party stomachaches serve as reminders as well.)
Sugar itself does not directly harm teeth, but it enables the two big culprits of tooth decay: bacteria and acids. The dentist in me will offer a reminder that the acids in sweetened drinks, such as soda pop (or ‘pop’ as Minnesotans say) are harmful to your teeth. There are lots of different kinds of bacteria living on and around your teeth. Bacteria is hungry for sugar – more so than your craving for a piece of chocolate after dinner. These bacteria feed on the sugar and generate a little bacteria commune, commonly referred to as plaque. The plaque allows bacteria to stay on the teeth longer, until eventually the bacteria make acids, which wear down the tooth enamel and cause cavities. Bacteria in the plaque produce a toxin that causes gingivitis. If left untreated, this may develop into periodontitis, causing bone and tissue loss around the teeth. So, if you are drinking pop on a daily basis, you may want to try to hop on the everything-in-moderation train.
Some of the most popular drinks, including soft drinks and fruit juices, are acidic and have been shown to make the teeth weaker. As the enamel on the tooth continues to wear, the inner layer, dentin, becomes exposed. This leads to pain and toothache(s), a condition referred to as dentin hypersensitivity. Sports and energy drinks may sound healthy-ish, but sugar is a top ingredient. The American Academy of Pediatrics says sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, but unnecessary in most cases. Before your next sip, check the label to make sure your drink of choice is low in sugar or drink water.
A naturally sweetened drink that is not harmful to your teeth is milk. Sweetened and acidic drinks that are high in calcium and phosphate, such as milk and yogurt can protect your teeth from the harmful effects of acids. Milk aids in a process called remineralization, where calcium and phosphate are taken into the tooth enamel, making it stronger. There are also other components in milk that prevent the bacteria from sticking to the tooth and growing into plaque. So, drinking some milk and eating dairy products such as yogurt or cheese are good additions for your daily routine – if you are able to digest them. Be mindful of your choices and do what works best for you, personally.
Sugar not only affects your teeth, but your whole body. My friend, Liz Blom, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Liz and I agree that moderation is key. I asked Liz what she tells her clients when asked: How much sugar is too much?
The American Heart Association guidelines call for less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for children ages 2 to 18 years. This includes no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week.
How can parents and children identify if they are breaking the sugar bank? One of my favorite activities for parents as well as children (who can do the math) is to read food labels, find ‘sugar,’ and have them calculate teaspoons of sugar in their favorite foods. The simple math: every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
(¾ cup) of Lucky Charms® cereal contains 10g sugar = 2 ½ teaspoons sugar.
1 pouch (.9oz) Welch’s® Fruit Snacks contain 11g sugar = 2 ¾ teaspoons sugar.
12oz. Bottle of Gatorade® contains 19g sugar = 4 ¾ teaspoons sugar.
12oz Can of A&W® Root Beer contains 45g sugar = 11.25 teaspoons (almost double daily recommendation).
The problems with too much sugar:
Eating lots of added sugar early in life is linked to obesity, high blood pressure and type two diabetes. These health problems put children and young adults at risk for heart disease.
Plus, filling up on sugary treats (often lacking in nutrition value) leaves less room in the belly for heart-healthy fare like fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
How to manage sugar:
- Learn how to balance your own nutrition first and talk to your children about the importance of balanced nutrition.
- Set an example by eating fruits and vegetables.
- Remember you are the nutrition gatekeeper. Keep fresh and frozen fruit on hand for sweets with nutritional value.
- Practice rewarding behaviors with items or events other than sugary foods.
- Finally, occasional treats can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Just remember the following: Keep portion in mind. Share (split it) with friends and family. Find joy in the food and the moment by turning off the television – avoiding screen time and mindless eating.
Liz Blom is the Founder and Chief Health Nut of Veggies and Chocolate™. In addition to being a solopreneur, Liz is a dedicated wife, mother of two busy teenage daughters, an athlete and a health, wellness and nutritional coach.
Facebook: Veggies and Chocolate
Here are a few simple tips for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
- Brush at least twice daily. (Bonus points for brushing after lunch!)
- Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after drinking sugary beverages. The acids in them make your teeth weaker, and tooth brushing can remove the softened enamel and produce wear.
- Reduce the daily amount of sweetened drinks. (Refer to them as a “sometimes drink.”)
- Drink plenty of fluoridated water with meals, and along with sweetened beverages to wash away the sugar and acids.
- Use a straw to help reducing the contact of sweetened beverages with your teeth.
- Supplement sugary drinks with milk, yogurt, or water.
- Visit your dentist every six months for your cleaning.
A trusted patient of Cataldo Family Dentistry, Meg, shares how she met Dr. Cataldo and why she's been a patient of over 15 years.
How did you first hear about Cataldo Family Dentistry?
Interestingly, I met Dr. Cataldo’s wife, Rosie, during jury duty in 2002. We were both pregnant. We had dinner together once jury duty was finished and I met her husband. Conveniently we both live in the west metro. Since we needed a dentist for our growing family, we began to see him and have stayed ever since.
He is very good with kids, personable and kind. He always has a smile on his face. My kids are relaxed by that. My daughter knows that her dental work needs to be done. She knows why he’s doing it. She talks her through it and that has helped ease her dental anxieties. You get a really nice warm vibe from him and that puts people at ease. The staff is great. They are fun, happy and personable. It is nice to be around that, especially for a dental office.
What did you find as a result of choosing Dr. Cataldo as your family dentist?
I found a partner in a necessary area of my life. I feel very comfortable calling when I need something. For the emergencies that I’ve had, he was very kind and gracious to get me in on time. He listened to my suggestions and gave me a great solution. I had a chipped crown and he came up with a really quick temporary solution until we could spend more time on it. That was really helpful. Basically he stopped the pain. He never makes me feel like I’m an inconvenience and the staff is the same. The staff really reflects who he is.
Is there a specific aspect you like most about the office?
Everything’s done efficiently. I’ve never had a delay or any billing issues. Scheduling has always been right on. Everyone’s been flexible. I feel if I call, or have a need, it’s taken care of. I feel the staff is proactive in reminding me of appointment times. There’s never been a case where we’ve set something up and had to move it. It has always run like clockwork. It’s something I can always count on – the scheduling and the service.
Would you recommend Cataldo Family Dentistry to others?
Absolutely, 100 percent. I love it here. I don’t even consider going anywhere else. It’s not exactly convenient for us, but I would not consider going elsewhere. I really appreciate that you take all of my three kids at the same time. So I only have to pull them out of school one day. Their pediatrician only allows two at a time. I really appreciate that you can get my whole family in on one day. It’s really efficient.
Connections can lead to wonderful possibilities. Thanks to Dr. Cataldo’s connection to a close college friend, Dr. David Tetzlaff, he became involved in Children’s Surgery International (CSI) in 2004. CSI is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit committed to serving children and families in underdeveloped countries. Their primary surgical focus is correcting cleft lip and cleft palates. This seemed like a natural confluence of interests. Not only does it fill Dr. Cataldo’s inherent need to serve others, CSI allows children to wear a genuine, no-holds-back smile – which would not be possible without the help of surgery. Thanks to the hard work of doctors, nurses and volunteers, the children reached can smile not only with their eyes, but with their mouths – also know as: mukha, afi, bouch, boca, fum or mieng.
To say Dr. Tetzlaff is compassionate would be an understatement. Helping people is a part of his daily life, but he takes it to another level. He packs up his is empathetic bedside manner, takes it across the globe and gifts it to the children and families he serves – that’s 20 mission trips and counting. Dr. Tetzlaff is currently CSI’s medical director. His wife, Dr. Naomi Tetzlaff, had a patient who volunteered on CSI’s board of directors. Connections. That’s how it all unfolded. Dr. Tetlaff’s first mission trip was to Peru in 2004. “Seeing the compassion, caring and teamwork of volunteers, I was hooked,” said Dr. Tetzlaff regarding his first mission.
Dr. Cataldo admires Dr. Tetzlaff and his willingness to give of his time and talents. After hearing firsthand about all of the praiseworthy work that CSI spearheads, Dr. Cataldo was eager to learn more and become a supporter. “It’s easy to be enamored with CSI and their mission,” says Dr. Cataldo, “They are helping children and families obtain surgery that would otherwise be financially out of reach for them. Not only is CSI granting smiles and allowing kids to the opportunity to feel more confident and be better able to absorb nutrition, but they are a teaching organization. Their goal is to no longer be needed, to work themselves out of a job in a given area. That’s remarkable,” says Dr. Cataldo, “CSI makes a tremendous impact with each mission.”
CSI’s mission: Children’s Surgery International is a Minnesota-based, nonprofit volunteer organization that provides free medical and surgical services to children in need around the world. Our care is safe, compassionate and culturally sensitive and benefits children who may have severely limited access to pediatric medical and surgical services. CSI fosters self-sufficiency through curriculum-based, hands-on training and education. We work with local surgical teams, doctors and nurses to build a sustainable foundation of essential surgical and medical skills. This means that children receive high-quality surgical care in their communities during our missions and in the future.
In the United States, it’s a rarity to see a person who has a cleft lip or cleft palate. Our hospitals have the resources and the means to repair these during infancy. The word cleft means a gap or opening where a gap or opening doesn’t belong. A cleft lip occurs when the soft tissues and upper jaw bones fail to fuse during the first 12 weeks of gestation, causing a gap in the lip that may extend into the nostril and the floor of the nose. This results in a dramatic facial deformity. A cleft palate occurs when the muscle and bones in the roof of the mouth fail to fuse, creating an opening between the mouth and the nose. A cleft palate makes breast feeding almost impossible, resulting in severe malnutrition. An unrepaired cleft palate also causes severe speech problems that can last a lifetime. Children can be born with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both. These conditions cause severe emotional turmoil resulting in parental guilt, family shame and social ostracization. In many countries, these children are hidden from public view, or worse – put to death.
The incidence of cleft lip, with or without cleft palate, varies over the globe. In the United States, cleft lip and palate are the fourth most common birth defects, affecting one in 700 babies. CSI has touched the lives of many in the countries of: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and Vietnam. The need in the areas that CSI serves appears higher due to the lack of resources in those countries. Clefts occur more often in children of Asian, Latino and Native American descent. Cleft lip is twice as common with boys as girls. Clefts occur for a variety of reasons. Some are caused by environmental factors, such as the mother’s medication during pregnancy. Others are inherited through the family. Viral or other chemical exposure may be the cause in some situations. Most of the time the cause is unknown and not the fault of the mother or family.
A young Bangladeshi woman, age 22, rarely left her home due to her extreme cleft lip and palate, which disfigured her face. Her family was so embarrassed by their daughter’s deformity that when visitors came she was sent to the back of the house so she would not be seen. She was not allowed to attend school with her sisters. The CSI team performed meticulous operations which transformed this young lady, so that her appearance now matched her lovely spirit. When the mother saw her daughter for the first time after surgery, she wept, telling her daughter how beautiful she was. The CSI team’s work was validated, 100 times over. This is the life changing work which CSI trailblazes.
Since the nonprofit’s inception in 2002, there have been 1,000 volunteers who have served in nine countries. More than 2,300 children have received life-changing surgery. Thousands of hours of hands-on training, teaching and educational lectures have been provided to doctors, nurses and staff in the countries served. When you have the right connections the possibilities are boundless.