Water, Nature’s Drink
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month as sponsored by the American Dental Association. The theme for 2021 is “Water, Nature’s Drink”, so it seemed appropriate to use this week’s article to explore why water is important not only for dental health but for your general health as well.
Drinking water and staying hydrated is critical for our health as our bodies are 60% water. Water is critical in nearly every aspect of our health from regulating body temperature and normalizing blood pressure to aiding digestion. Our bodies are typically excellent in letting us know when to drink due to thirst but becoming dehydrated or over hydrating can both be dangerous and even lead to death due to imbalances in electrolytes (sodium).
So how much water should you drink? The amount varies by person and situation, but it is considered healthy to drink four to six cups of water for most people. This amount is much higher during exercise or in hot temperatures. Dentally it is best to drink water throughout the day to wash bacteria and food off your teeth, allow fluoride from the water to coat the teeth, and to fight dry mouth.
Our teeth are covered in bacteria, food particles and the acids produced from the bacteria. Any drink will help wash your mouth but drinking juice, pop, or other sweetened drinks will leave unwanted sugar behind. The bacteria use the sugars to produce acid which then erodes the enamel of your teeth and increases cavity risk. By sticking to water, you are helping to cleanse your teeth and neutralize the acid and thus decreasing your risk of cavities.
Not all water is created equal! Many bottled waters and in-home reverse osmosis water don’t have the fluoride needed to prevent cavities. Fluoride in the appropriate amount in city and rural water supplies is considered one of the greatest public heath achievements of all time. Study after study has demonstrated the reduction in cavities between populations who have fluoridated water versus those that don’t. Also, many blind taste tests have shown that city water supplies generally taste as good if not better than bottled waters. Therefore, it is recommended to drink tap water. It can save you money from buying bottled water or spending more on dental work.
Saliva is the first defense against cavities that works by washing away food and covering teeth with minerals that strengthen and protect them. Being dehydrated can cause the saliva supply to be low causing a dry mouth. Dry mouth puts you at a high risk of tooth decay. There are many reasons for a dry mouth including medical conditions and medications. If you have a dry mouth make sure to drink throughout the day and discuss treatment options with your dentist.
For children it is critical to set them up with a healthy oral environment and healthy habits. One early mistake we see in the dental office is parents using a sippy cup with either milk or other sugary drink. This allows the teeth to be coated with sugars throughout the day and can lead to many cavities. Once kids start getting cavities the oral bacteria can become exceedingly difficult to alter leaving them at a high risk of cavities for life. Using water in the sippy cup is great early on, but it is also important to continue limiting sugary drinks as children get older. Kids aren’t known for making great decisions with food or drink. Not keeping soda or other sugary drinks available except for special occasions will allow your children to become accustomed to drinking water and hopefully will keep the healthy habit into adulthood.
This article was a lot of words for a simple message – drink more water and avoid sugary drinks. But hopefully the next time you grab a soda, sport drink, or pour sugar into your coffee you will think twice about what is best for your health.
This blog post was written by Dr. Joiner to also be published in the Capitol Democrat Staying Healthy series of articles.