Back to Top Skip to main content

Eat an apple a day, but don't keep the dentist away

A child eats an apple during a Trunk-or-Treat event, which featured a healthy snack station as an alternative to candy, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jimmie D. Pike) A child eats an apple during a Trunk-or-Treat event, which featured a healthy snack station as an alternative to candy, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jimmie D. Pike)

Recommended Content:

Deployment Health | Health Readiness | Nutrition | Preventive Health

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — From sodas and desserts to fruits and vegetables, sugar can be found in just about anything that’s consumed. While it’s part of almost any diet, sugar can impact more than weight and well-being. It can affect oral health, too.

Army Lt. Col. Paul Colthirst, deputy consultant for Dental Public Health and commander of the Fort Polk Dental Health Activity, said the oral cavity, which includes teeth, tissues, and gums, can tell the entire story of a patient’s overall health. Since everything passes through the mouth, proper nutrition is critical for good oral health, he said.

“Oral health is a big part of mission readiness, so it’s important for service members and their families to take care of their teeth, but it takes more than brushing,” said Colthirst. Tooth decay, a primarily diet-based disease, is one of the main causes for dental emergencies among deployed service members – and it’s preventable.

Colthirst said eating a poor diet filled with carbohydrates, sugars, and starches can lead to various dental health issues, including gum disease and tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by the breakdown of the enamel – the tooth’s protective layer. When these foods are consumed, they produce sugars and plaque, a sticky film filled with oral bacteria. While consuming the sugars, these bacteria release acids that then break down the enamel, which leads to decay, he added. As the enamel weakens, cavities are formed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for young people ages six to 19 and affects nine out of 10 adults older than the age 20 to some degree.

“People tend to believe that as long as they brush their teeth a couple of times a day that their dental health is assured, but there’s a lot more that goes into having good dental health and strong teeth that comes from nutrition,” said Army Maj. Susan Stankorb, a dietitian at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Stankorb said tooth decay can be caused by sugar- and starch-filled substances, such as candy, juice, soda, and energy drinks. Snacking frequently and drinking beverages other than water in between meals causes the acidity in the mouth to increase and prolongs the amount of time the teeth are in breakdown mode, she added. 

“If you’re more of a grazer and you tend to eat fermentable carbs – crackers, anything sticky, chewy, sugary – that will sit in your mouth, you’re going to be more prone to having cavities or dental issues if this habit is consistent over time,” said Stankorb. The average acidity, or pH, of saliva is 7. On a scale of 0 to 14, this is considered neutral. Sticky or sugar-filled foods tend to bring the pH level down to about a 5.5 – the level where the cavity process begins.

While some nutritious foods containing natural sugars, including milk and fruit, should be included in the diet regularly, foods with added sugars should be limited. Reading labels helps keep track of the amount of sugar, carbohydrates, and starch in food and drinks. However, it’s important to also consider the serving size and number of servings per package. Stankorb recommends eating on a regular meal and snack schedule with at least three hours in between meals, and limiting non-nutritious snacks high in added sugars.

“If something acidic like soda or juice was consumed, we recommend not brushing immediately afterward because that can be very hard on the enamel,” said Stankorb, who recommends waiting at least 20 minutes to brush teeth; in the meantime, drink water to rinse the mouth. Staying hydrated with water produces saliva, which neutralizes pH in the mouth, prevents decay, and hardens teeth, she added. 

Foods that can help with dental health include nuts, raw vegetables, yogurt, and cheese. Hard cheese, such as cheddar, helps neutralize decay-causing acids that are produced by bacteria in the mouth. Army Maj. Akeele Johnson, a general dentist at the Fort Polk Dental Health Activity, recommends these steps to help maintain or improve dental health:

  • Drink sugary or acidic drinks quickly to limit exposure to teeth, and drink them through a straw to minimize contact with the teeth.
  • Replace sugary beverages with sugar-free drinks, water, or unsweetened coffee or herbal tea.
  • Limit juice to 6 ounces of calcium-fortified juice per day.

Teeth should be brushed twice a day in circular motions with fluoride toothpaste and the mouth should not be rinsed after brushing, said Johnson. By not rinsing or consuming anything for 20-30 minutes after brushing, fluoride is able to stay on the teeth for protection.

“Oral health is a showstopper,” said Johnson. “We want people to have good health, and we’re here to help.”

You also may be interested in...

Total Force Fitness advice you can sink your teeth into

Article
2/18/2020
Good dental hygiene is essential to keeping the armed forces healthy. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Kyle Gladding, from Montgomery, Alabama, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford's dental department, prepares a patient for a dental x-ray. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brigitte Johnston)

Healthy teeth are essential to a medically ready warfighter

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Eyes on it: Optometry clinic ensures mission readiness

Article
2/4/2020
Dr. Courtney Humphrey, 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometrist, holds a lens used to look into a patient’s eye at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Jan. 27, 2020. Humphrey is one of three doctors in the Langley AFB optometry clinic, treating active duty personnel from all branches. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Dowe)

Eye exams are more than just reading a chart

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Sorry flu, not this year

Article
1/27/2020
U.S. Air Force Kathryn Klein, right, an aerospace medical service specialist with 182nd Medical Group, Illinois Air National Guard, administers an influenza vaccination during drill weekend at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., Dec. 8, 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, and the best prevention is getting a flu vaccine each year. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Paul R. Helmig II)

The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Medical supply chain teamed with Department of Defense partners to provide 3.4 million doses of the influenza vaccine to service members, dependents and retirees.

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Health Readiness | Influenza Summary and Reports | Influenza, Northern Hemisphere | Seasonal Influenza Resource Center 2019-20

Mid-season flu activity increase: How to keep healthy

Article
1/22/2020
Navy Hospital Corpsman Kenny Liu, from San Jose, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford's medical department, prepares a needle with a flu vaccination in the ship's hangar bay. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)

Despite reports of increased flu activity in the U.S., the Military Health System remains vigilant

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Influenza Summary and Reports | Health Readiness | Influenza, Northern Hemisphere | Influenza, Southern Hemisphere | Vaccine Recommendations | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch

HPV vaccine age limit raised by FDA to age 45

Article
1/14/2020
https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/hpv/ Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that men and women up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against the Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the U.S. each year, and about 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases image)

HPV shot protects against a host of diseases in men, women

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Vaccine Recommendations

U.S. Transportation Command: DoD’s manager for global patient movement

Article
1/9/2020
An ambulance bus backs up to the Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III as Airmen prepare to unload patients at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The bus transports the ill and/or injured to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. JBA and Travis Air Force Base, California, serve as the primary military entry points or hubs for patient distribution within the continental United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karina Luis)

On a weekly basis, USTRANSCOM moves up to 40 patients from overseas to CONUS

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Joint Chiefs say mind, body, spirit all part of Total Force Fitness

Article
1/7/2020
Image of a Marine climbing a rope ladder

2020 focus on factors making service members, families “resilient”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Operation Live Well

Navy Medicine demonstrates Virtual Health options to Africa

Article
1/6/2020
Air Force Staff Sgt. Danny Lim practices conducting a throat examination on Army Sgt. Harvey Drayton at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti. Drayton and Lim were introduced to the Telehealth In A Bag system during a recent visit that included personnel from Regional Health Command Europe's virtual health team. (U.S. Army photo by Russell Toof)

Djibouti hosts the largest U.S. American military base on the African continent

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Air Force studies fatigue, sleep to enhance readiness

Article
12/31/2019
An Air Force Airman sleeps inside a C-17 Globemaster III during a flight over an undisclosed location in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration)

Good sleep habits are closely related to overall health and performance

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Sleep

Achievements in 2019 provide strong foundation for year ahead

Article
12/23/2019
A Year in Review: Year of Military Health 2019

Dedication, commitment to mission praised as changes continue

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | MHS GENESIS | Research and Innovation | Preventive Health | MHS Transformation

Guard and Reserve crucial to CCATT expansion

Article
12/20/2019
Air Force Maj. Lori Wyatt, a Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, West Virginia, assembles a gurney during a casualty evacuation training at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport. The Air Force is increasing the number of CCATTs to support future readiness requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. De-Juan Haley)

The Guard and Reserve support the bulk of aeromedical evacuation, CCATT capabilities

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Air Force, Army medics save groom

Article
12/19/2019
Airmen from the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron simulate life-saving procedures to a training manikin onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker during an exercise out of Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th AES maintains a forward operating presence, and was instrumental in saving an Airman’s life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Seefeldt)

NCO’s first aeromedical evacuation mission was definitely challenging

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

McCaffery calls for military medical strategic framework for warfighting readiness

Article
12/5/2019
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery speaks on Thursday at the annual meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals. McCaffery announced to the nearly 2,000 conference attendees that he has asked the Military Health System's senior leadership to develop and codify a formal strategic framework to guide integrating and optimizing all MHS components to meet his vision. (MHS photo)

'New reality' includes tight synchronization, expanding partnerships

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | MHS Transformation

Military medical reform is an opportunity to make trauma care better

Article
11/21/2019
Army Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, U.S. Army Surgeon General, spoke to surgeons at the Defense Committee on Trauma and Committees on Surgical and En Route Combat Casualty Care Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, on November 13. He spoke about the plans for current and future trauma and surgical initiatives within Army Medicine and that surgeons must be involved in improving trauma care during this time of military medical reform. (U.S. Army Image by Rebecca Westfall)

There is an opportunity to bring real change to how the military handles combat trauma care

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Preventing seasonal influenza

Article
11/13/2019
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 8

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.