Dr. Paul Kittle is a pediatric dentist and co-owner of The Smile Centre at 309 S. Second St. in downtown Leavenworth.

Dr. Paul Kittle is a pediatric dentist and co-owner of The Smile Centre at 309 S. Second St. in downtown Leavenworth.

1. There is new research all the time that links a person's health to their oral health, especially regarding heart disease and risk of stroke. How do these factors connect to each other?

Multiple studies have proposed an association of periodontal (gum) disease and both cardiovascular disease and stroke due to the inflammation and bleeding seen in patients with gum disease. Bleeding gums allow bacteria to enter the blood stream even when the teeth are not being brushed. Many researchers have found links between the disease(s), but direct cause and effect relationship(s) have not yet been proven.

2. Some studies have found possible links between oral health and Alzheimer's Disease. Is this true, and if so, what does the research say?

Research studies as current as May 2012 have demonstrated that there may be a link between periodontal disease (gum disease) and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease due to a response to bacterial inflammatory products released into the blood stream. More research is ongoing.

3. Is it true that most children's cavities are passed on to them by their parents, and if so, how?

Cavities are an infectious disease caused primarily by the bacteria Strep mutants that are passed from person to person through saliva. There is conclusive evidence that children acquire the bacteria by a transfer from another individual. Licking from the same spoon, drinking from the same bottle, an infant's hand placed in the parent's mouth and then placed into their mouth, are all methods that allow the bacteria to be implanted into the child. Unfortunately, once you have the bacteria, you cannot get rid of the bacteria. "Fixing" a cavity does not remove the bacteria.

4. Based on the importance of these findings, how often, then, do you recommend that kids and adults brush their teeth?

The bacteria that cause cavities take approximately 24 hours to become strong enough to produce the acid that causes the start of a cavity. This acid causes a decalcification of the surface of the tooth. Brushing really well once a day (at night before bed) will help prevent the bacteria from being able to make the acid. Brushing multiple times a day certainly also helps, especially after eating carbohydrates and sugars.

5. Are there any other factors we should be aware of in order to have a healthy teeth, gums and mouth?

Diet has a profound effect on the development of cavities. Carbohydrates and sugars are the substances that oral bacteria use to fuel their growth and produce the acid that weakens the teeth. How frequently the teeth are exposed to the carbohydrates and sugars is THE KEY. Children should not be allowed to eat and drink at will, all day long. Brushing well, especially along the gum lines, cleans the teeth, flossing cleans between the teeth where the brush cannot reach. Fluoridated toothpastes, fluoridated rinses and water fluoridation (Leavenworth, Lansing and Fort Leavenworth have fluoridated water) are very effective in helping to reduce cavities, as are sealants. Regular checkups are highly encouraged to prevent oral disease. A final thought…Do your gums bleed when you brush? This generally does not mean you are brushing too hard, but that you have gum disease to some degree. Have regular oral health examinations — your mouth is the gateway to your body.

– Dale Brendel