Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Health Care and Junk Food

(This article was originally published for me on March 8th by Corporate Wellness Magazine--more info about them is located at www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com).

Ever find yourself snared by the intoxicating smell of a Big Mac or a Whopper? Do you find yourself captured by two all beef patties, special sauce, onions, cheese, pickles, lettuce on a sesame seed bun? How about going after a fish and chips meal at Long John Silvers, or diving face first into a bucket of the Colonel’s finest? Do you long for the taste of roast beef piled high with melted cheese and horsey sauce from Arby’s? What about the countless fast food locations across the country that serve meals to go by the millions every year? Do you find yourself reaching for the call button on the drive through more than once a week, or park in a spot where the waitress comes to you outside in your car to take your order of Tots, Rings, a Shake, and a myriad of tantalizing and amazing treats beyond your control to resist?

Junk food is a slang word for foods with limited nutritional value, according to Dietition.com. Every person has their own list of foods that they call junk foods, and you can also include foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat or calories and low nutrient content. Salted snack foods, candy, gum, most sweet desserts, fried fast food and carbonated beverages are some of the major junk foods. Generally, they offer little in terms of protein, vitamins or minerals and lots of calories from sugar or fat. The term "empty calories" reflects the lack of nutrients. And according to eHow.com, junk food isn't just greasy burgers from fast food restaurants. Junk food includes overly salty foods such as potato chips and pork rinds. Foods loaded with sugar such as packaged cupcakes and candies are also junk food. Foods that are high in saturated fats, sodium and refined sugar usually provide little or no nutritional value. Your body can't convert junk food into bone, muscle or healthy organ cells.

According to eHow.com, saturated fats and trans fats, like those found in junk food, get dispersed throughout your body and can lead to fat build-up in your blood, thereby increasing your blood pressure. These fat build-ups clog your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease. Too much sodium increases your blood volume. An excess of salt in your body can result in water retention. Your blood retains salty water and increases your blood pressure. The body requires a small intake of sodium to function properly, around 2400 milligrams a day. When you consume too much sodium, the balance between fluid intake and outgo is disturbed. The kidneys cannot properly convert the excess to waste, resulting in edema and kidney disease. Refined sugar is linked to tooth decay because sugar breaks down calcium. This means excess sugar not only causes cavities, it puts you at risk for osteoporosis.

Sugar is stored in the liver as glucose, but the liver can only store a finite amount. Excess sugar enters the bloodstream as fatty acids, which the body stores as fat. Eating too much sugar makes you fat. This fat is difficult to burn off and can ultimately result in obesity, heart disease and other health issues.

According to FastFoodNation.co.uk, research carried out in the United States shed some more light on why people can’t leave the burgers alone. If you thought it was just because they were lazy and fancied a quick bite to eat rather than cooking dinner, you could be wrong. Apparently some people get addicted to the taste of popular fast food because it contains just the right mixture of fat, sugar and salt to set off the pleasure chemicals in the brain. Experiments carried out on lab rats showed that when they were fed a diet that consisted of 25% sugar – and then the sugar is removed, the rats become anxious, their teeth start to chatter and they suffer with the shakes - not unlike people going through a nicotine or morphine withdrawal. The researchers also noticed long lasting changes in brain chemistry of rats fed with foods that had a combination of sweet, salt and fat in, which led them to conclude that there was a possibility that people too could see brain changes – and become physically addicted to eating fast food.

Most junk food contributes no nutritional value to the body, according to the Health Guide. When eaten in moderation junk food can be included in your diet. One of the long term side effects of eating too much junk food includes lack of energy, because junk food does not give you the nutrients you need to function properly. You may feel tired or lack the energy needed to finish a task at work or home. You may crave sugar feeling very hungry and weak due to the imbalance the junk food will create in your body. Another side effect is poor concentration because you feel tired due to the accumulations of fat in your body.

There is lack of vital oxygen that can affect your brain cells due to lack of healthy food in your system. Heart disease may develop because of the accumulations of plaque in the arteries. Junk food causes your heart to have to put extra effort into pumping the blood. So your heart suffers damage receiving low oxygen and fatigues from the extra effort to pump blood through clogged veins. High cholesterol results at times damaging your liver and hurting your heart. Not only that, but you often put on weight due to the fat and high carbohydrates in junk food. Many children develop weight problems from eating too much junk food. Too much junk food is not good for your health. Some people that eat junk food develop diabetes because most snack foods have too much sugar. Some people develop high blood pressure because of the high sodium content in junk food. Other problems it causes with kids are mood swings, lack of interest in physical exercise, constipation, weight gain, and other illnesses. However, people crave the taste of most junk food, no matter how bad it is for you.

According to FreedomYou.com, taste is vital to repeat business. Before modern refrigeration, mothers depended on smell, color and taste to determine whether food was fit for the family supper. Instinctively, you still depend on these senses to feel safe about what you eat. Most people buy their weekly groceries according to convenience and taste. This is evidenced by the fact that processed food makes up about 90% of all the money Americans spend on food. The dilemma with processed food is that canning, freezing, dehydrating, super heating and storing all contribute to destroying most of the natural flavors of food, resulting in that “cardboard” taste. So along came the chemical factories to the rescue to try to reproduce the original tastes of the foods. They are a highly secretive industry and will not reveal their clients. After all, they would not want us thinking that the unique taste of a Happy Meal was produced by a scientist in a while lab coat applying few drops of specialized chemicals to your kid’s food, far away from grills and deep fryers. Your beloved burger was nothing more than a tired old cow given a high dollar makeover. These masters of disguise are called flavorists.

As much as 90 percent of flavor comes from the aroma of food, according to FreedomYou.com. Your taste buds can detect up to six different basic tastes; the rest is left up to your nose to fill in the full spectrum of subtle flavors. People spend a lot of money to experience delicious flavors. Wars have been waged over rare spices, and connoisseurs will pay top prices for a well-aged bottle of wine. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) is responsible for creating the distinct personalities of many of the popular name brand products Americans have come to know, from crackers, breakfast cereals, pet foods, potato chips, all-natural juice drinks, beers, organic soy drinks, to furniture polish, dishwashing detergent, and floor wax. The science behind the scent of your underarm deodorant is basically the same one that puts the flavor in your pop tarts.

The flavor industry is big business. According to FreedomYou.com, every year about 10,000 new processed food products will be introduced to consumers and nearly all will need a careful makeover from a flavorist. The nostalgic aroma of a Big Mac is a carefully manufactured scent, bottled in some lab just off the New Jersey Turnpike. Maybe one day you will be able to buy a vial of Big Mac Essence. Walking into a fast food establishment today, though, holds a completely different feeling for most people. The smells that greet you at the door are as real as the plastic framed reproductions hanging on the walls. Unwrapping fancy advertising, pulling off the extra crispy coating, probing below taste-bud appeal; it is easy to expose naked motive: money.
According to Dietition.com, rather than taking a radical approach and banning all but the simplest foods, judge each food based on the list of ingredients and nutrition facts on the label found on packages. When reading the list of ingredients, look for sugar, fat or salt as one of the first three ingredients. If any of these are listed that high in the ingredients, you can probably consider that food to be too high in sugar, fat or salt. The label will list the number of calories per serving, grams of fat, sodium, cholesterol, fiber and sugar content. This nutritional information will make you more knowledgeable in selecting foods to reduce your nutritional health risk. Calorie content of 300 calories per serving or less is considered to be all right, except whole meals unless you are following a weight loss diet. Be cautious though as to how large a serving size is. If 4 ounces of yogurt is a serving size and you eat an eight-ounce container, you have doubled the calorie content. Sometimes, the package serving size is not how little you serve yourself!

Now look at the number of grams of fat. For every five grams of fat in a serving of a food, you are eating the equivalent of one teaspoon of fat, according to Dietition.com. So, if one serving of a food has 23 grams of fat in it, that serving has the equivalent of four and one-half teaspoons of fat. You should limit the fat content in foods you eat daily to 30% of your total calories. Don't try to lower your fat content to below 25%, since fat does play a vital role in carrying fat soluble vitamins and keeping you satisfied between meals. Sodium content per serving should be 2300 milligrams or less per day. Some foods, like ham and other cured meats do have very high sodium content per serving. Limit these foods rather than eliminate them, and cholesterol content should be 300 milligrams or less per day. It is easy to remember that 300 is the same as the number of calories per serving. Fiber content will be listed in grams of dietary fiber. This amount will vary from product to product, but don't necessarily shop for only the highest numbers you can find. Any amount of dietary fiber above two grams per serving is good. Foods with five grams of fiber or more are considered high fiber foods. Sugar content is usually listed on cold cereal packages. A rule of thumb to follow is four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar.

Limit sugars amounts in cereals to four grams, but if the cereal has fruit in it, relax the sugar content to eight grams per serving. Fruits usually contain about 60% fructose and 40% sucrose. If you were to eliminate all sugar, you would be eliminating fruits, which are a valuable source of nutrients and soluble fiber. If you want to cut down on junk food, cut down your intake of salt, sugar, fat and refined foods. Choose your calories by the nutrient company they keep.
Many people who struggle with weight tie food to emotions, according to PersonalMoneyStore.com. They eat a lot to make themselves feel better, often opting for foods that make them feel warm and full but are not really healthy. In the same way, people use money to make themselves feel better, often taking out payday loans and buying items such as clothes that they know they don’t need. They buy them to make themselves feel better about something. Perhaps they want to feel more powerful and in control. Both of these approaches lead to bad habits for physical and financial health. Many people just get into the habit of doing counterproductive things. They grab their favorite snack that is high in “feel good” but low in nutrition and pop it their mouths without thinking. They buy the same $5 coffee because it is the purchase that makes them feel like it is going to be a good day even though they could make their own coffee for almost a month for the same price.

According to PersonalMoneyStore.com, these thoughtless, poor habits add up to bloated waistlines and bloated expenditure sheets. Further, impulsiveness can become a bad habit, as well. Impulse eating or buying is just a way someone can circumvent their better judgment. People know that stopping and thinking would lead them to a choice better for their cholesterol and their bottom line, but they would rather feed their habits than satisfy the need to improve their health. Every calorie adds to your weight problem. You have to eat, just like you have to spend money. Trying to live in constant denial and restraint only leads to binges in eating and spending. You need to focus on creating new habits to replace the old ones. You need to remove yourself from temptation, as well. Clear the house of junk food and put your cash in a CD or savings account where it is not easily accessed. Training yourself to view food and money differently will help you manage both of them better. They are not the cures for your emotional needs. They simply enable you to keep needing them. Turn your mind around and use food as fuel and money as a vehicle to a healthier lifestyle.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, according to OwnTheDollar.com, are low-cost items that are full of nutrients such as amino acids, antioxidants and vitamins that fight disease. Add whole grains as well in reducing your costs and waistline and low-fat dairy for stronger bones and teeth. Get rid of the junk food for snacking such as candy, chips, and cookies and, replace such foods with yogurt, microwave popcorn, or fresh fruit. You will also see a reduction in the amount you pay at the grocery for your efforts. Studies show that people who make food substitutes in which they replace junk food with healthier alternatives lose more weight and keep it off more often than people who merely follow a low-calorie diet. Exercise, as stated, is also part of the equation for a healthier lifestyle. When going on certain errands if they’re less than a mile away, bike or walk instead of driving to the destination. You will not only become more fit and trim but also save on gas and reduce car maintenance and expense.

There is a direct correlation between healthy eating, exercise, and saving money, according to OwnTheDollar.com. Taking care of yourself will save you money now and for years to come. As you can see, you do not have to put out a lot of money out in order to maintain your health. Simply by making a few modifications in how you eat and the way you undertake your daily activities can reduce costs and bring you more health and prosperity. Instead of greasy burgers, grill turkey burgers topped with fresh lettuce and tomato, according to eHow.com. Instead of salty potato chips, try veggie chips or low-sodium corn chips with fresh salsa. Instead of sugary cakes and candies, try fresh fruits or fruit juices. The occasional bit of junk food isn't going to ruin your health. If you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, your body should be able to process the odd indulgence. Your waistline, and your wallet, will thank you.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Health Care and Childhood Immunization

Childhood immunizations have been hugely successful over the past several decades in helping to reduce significantly the outbreak of many diseases including mumps, chicken pox, measles, and many more serious illnesses. Unfortunately, due to a growing lack of response by many new parents and families immigrating into the United States over the past several years, these diseases are now showing up again in more and more locations across the country. According to Newsweek.com, Hours after a baby is born, her parents are told it's best that she receive her first shot before she leaves the hospital. And that's just the beginning. By the child's sixth birthday, she'll have had at least 35 vaccinations—if she goes by government recommendations. Meanwhile, during those six years, her parents are likely to see hundreds of media reports and online message-board debates about which vaccines are necessary or even safe. It's confusing, to say the least.

When germs enter the body, the immune system recognizes them as foreign substances (antigens), according to FamilyDoctor.org. The immune system then produces the right antibodies to fight the antigens. Vaccines, or immunizations, contain antigens that cause diseases. However, the antigens in vaccines are weakened or killed. This means they cannot produce the signs or symptoms of the disease, but they do stimulate the immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies help protect you if you are exposed to the disease in the future. Vaccines not only help keep your child healthy, they help all children by stamping out serious childhood diseases. Vaccines are generally quite safe. The protection provided by vaccines far outweighs the very small risk of serious problems. Vaccines have made many serious childhood diseases rare today. Talk to your family doctor if you have any questions. Some vaccines may cause mild temporary side effects such as fever, or soreness or a lump under the skin where the shot was given. Your family doctor will talk to you about possible side effects with certain vaccines.

According to FamilyDoctor.org, in some special situations, children shouldn't be vaccinated. For example, some vaccines shouldn't be given to children who have certain types of cancer or certain diseases, or who are taking drugs that lower the body's ability to resist infection. If your child has had a serious reaction to the first shot in a series of shots, your family doctor will probably talk with you about the pros and cons of giving him or her the rest of the shots in the series. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about whether your child should receive a vaccine. Much more detailed information about the types of immunizations available and what diseases are preventable is found at this site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/vaccines/028.html.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children in the United States today routinely get vaccines that protect them from more than a dozen diseases such as measles, polio and tetanus. Most of these diseases are now at their lowest levels in history, thanks to years of immunization. Children must get at least some vaccines before they may attend school. Vaccines help make you immune to serious diseases without getting sick first. Without a vaccine, you must actually get a disease in order to become immune to the germ that causes it. Vaccines work best when they are given at certain ages. For example, children don't receive measles vaccine until they are at least one year old. If it is given earlier it might not work as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a schedule for childhood vaccines. And, although some of the vaccines you receive as a child provide protection for many years, adults need immunizations, too. This website provides helpful tips and schedules for immunization for children, teens, and adults: http://healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicId=59 .

However, even with all the pediatric specialists, medical information, and public data disseminated nationwide there are many parents who do not have their children immunized. This is dangerous, and the reasons for not having vaccinations often stem from incorrect information or misunderstanding the facts. According to MayoClinic.org, here are the Top 5 Myths about childhood immunizations or vaccines:
1.) Myth: Vaccines aren't necessary.
Fact: Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases, including diphtheria, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. If these diseases seem uncommon — or even unheard of — it simply means that vaccines are doing their job. If immunization rates drop, vaccine-preventable diseases may once again become common threats.

2.) Myth: Vaccine side effects are dangerous.
Fact: Any vaccine can cause side effects. Usually, these side effects are minor — low-grade fever, and soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some vaccines cause temporary headache, dizziness, fatigue or loss of appetite. Rarely, a child may experience a severe allergic reaction or a neurological side effect, such as a seizure. Although these rare side effects are a concern, vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent. Of course, vaccines aren't given to children who have known allergies to specific vaccine components. Likewise, if your child develops a life-threatening reaction to a particular vaccine, further doses of that vaccine won't be given.

3.) Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
Fact: Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven't found a clear connection between autism and childhood vaccines. Although signs of autism may appear at about the same time children receive certain vaccines — such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — this appears to be simply a coincidence.

4.) Myth: Vaccines are given too early.
Fact: Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases. Early vaccination — sometimes beginning shortly after birth — is essential because these diseases are most likely to occur when a child is very young and the risk of complications is greatest. If you postpone vaccines until a child is older, it may be too late.

5.) Myth: It's OK to skip certain vaccines if you have safety concerns.
Fact: In general, skipping vaccines isn't a good idea. This can leave your child vulnerable to potentially serious diseases that could otherwise be avoided. And consider this: For some children — including those who can't receive certain vaccines for medical reasons or those who don't seem to respond to certain vaccines — the only protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is the immunity of the people around them. If you have reservations about particular vaccines, discuss your concerns with your child's doctor. If your child falls behind the standard vaccines schedule, catch-up vaccinations are typically available. It usually isn't necessary to repeat earlier doses of a particular vaccine.

According to Newsweek.com, although some diseases like polio and diphtheria aren't often seen in America (in large part because of the success of the vaccination efforts), they can be quite common in other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if Americans were not protected by vaccinations, these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population. At the same time, the relatively few cases currently in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines. Plus, these diseases haven't disappeared, they are merely smoldering under the surface. Parents who opt out or stagger the vaccine schedule can end up having to deal with confusing follow-up care, which could produce an increase in disease outbreaks.

Children's immune systems are capable of combating far more antigens (weak or killed viruses) than they encounter via immunizations. In fact, the jury is still out on if there's an actual limit on how many the body can handle—though one study puts the number around a theoretical 10,000 vaccines in one day. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics' site or the Network for Immunization Information for more information. Many doctors support following the recommended schedule for vaccinations, which outlines getting as many as five shots in one day at a couple check-ups. The CDC reports that most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever and "so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically." If you have concerns about following the recommended immunizations, schedule a visit with your doctor or medical clinic, and don't wait until a check-up. Set up a consultation appointment with your pediatrician, or even outline a strategy for care with your doctor during your pregnancy if you are an expectant mother.

Immunizations against chickenpox and the flu are highly recommended. According to Newsweek.com, pediatricians say severe complications are possible with chickenpox—including bacterial infections that could result in a child's hospitalization or death. Now that there's a vaccine for chickenpox, more than 45 states require the shots (unless your child already had the chicken pox or can prove natural immunity). Two shots usually guarantees your child a way out of being bedecked in calamine lotion for two feverish weeks, but some individuals do still come down with a milder form of the pox. Most pediatricians recommend getting the shot. The flu shot does not contain a live virus, so your child can't get the flu from this shot. But, after the shot, it's not uncommon to feel a bit achy while the immune system mounts its response. Remember that for two weeks following the shot, your child can still get the flu, so be sure to help your child avoid that feverish kid next door.

Immunization is a subject that evokes very strong opinions and usually stirs up heated debate as to their efficacy, safety, and reliability. The main questions parents have to answer, according to NaturoDoc.com, are whether to immunize or not, and if so, when and with which ones. It is vital that doctors educate their patients as to the pros and cons, indications and contraindications, and risks and benefits of vaccinations in order that the parents can then make an informed choice for their children. By providing a balanced view of the evidence on immunization, physicians and other health care providers can help people make intelligent decisions regarding their health care, and the health care of their dependents.

According to NaturoDoc.com, the basic idea behind immunization is to produce a state of immunity to these childhood infectious diseases through the deliberate, artificial stimulation of the body's defenses against each disease. Ideally, this is done without causing any symptoms or signs of illness. In reality, no immunizing biological agent is completely safe, and it may produce side effects. It is important to assess each individual child and each individual vaccine, and then allow the parent to decide what to do after weighing all the facts and sorting out the fiction.

Considering the health care risks of not immunizing children, teens, and adults for not only individual medical safety, but also for the public welfare of society in general, getting your kids vaccinated against terrible diseases is the best course of action. If you don't have insurance that covers pediatric care and vaccinations, then consider free government clinics (if you qualify for aid), retail health clinics such as those located in Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, and other locations, or purchasing a medical discount plan that provides savings on this health care expense. Companies like Careington (www.careington.com) provide access through medical networks affiliated with PHCS and others that provide immediate savings and unlimited usage with participating doctors nationwide. Once a member of the plan, you could reasonably expect savings of 20% to 40% by visiting pediatricians that honor the discounted fees. Although you won't have a small co-pay often seen in some insurance plans, the savings are very good after the bill has been re-priced to the discounted rate. Since children need to be immunized, it makes sense to do it in a timely, cost effective way to protect them, and other family members and friends, against diseases that are very contagious and cause extremely severe health care issues.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Health Care and Your Kid's Teeth

How was your first experience with a dentist? Was it when you were a child and your Mother took you trembling and shaking into the dental office? Was your first time in the chair one of fear and trepidation because all you heard were horror stories from your friends? Did you have anxiety about what was going to happen because of all the weird looking tools and equipment. Was your dentist a kind and gentle older person, or young and hip? Many people are afraid to go to the dentist, and some of that comes from memories of childhood anxieties when they were getting cavities filled or a cleaning by the dental hygienist. Some of those fears may be well founded if the first visit as a child is not positive, and some continue as phobias because of general experiences that may be very uncomfortable.

Pediatric dentistry is a very specialized field. And dentists who practice that specialty are required to have much more detailed experience and training before they work with children. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), pediatric dentistry is one of the nine recognized dental specialties of the American Dental Association. Pediatric dentists complete two to three years of additional specialized training (after the required four years of dental school) to prepare them for treating a wide variety of children's dental problems. They are also trained and qualified to care for patients with medical, physical or mental disabilities. The pediatric dentist is a recognized primary oral health care provider and resource for specialty referral. The AAPD has over 7,600 members who work in private offices, clinics and hospital settings and serve as primary care providers for millions of infants, children, adolescents and patients with special health care needs. In addition, these dentists serve as the primary contributors to professional education programs and scholarly works concerning dental care for children.

According to YourDentistryGuide.com, dental caries (tooth decay or cavities) is the most chronic childhood ailment – five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that tooth decay is the most chronic disease among children aged five to 17. Oral health problems affecting infants are no less serious. What your children eat affects their teeth. Sugars (found in cake, cookies, candy, milk and juice) and starches (found in pretzels and potato chips) can cause tooth decay. Add to this the fact that it is more difficult to clean babies' and children's teeth and you can see why debris tends to remain in children's teeth, resulting in bacteria growth and, ultimately, tooth decay. And although baby teeth (deciduous or primary teeth) are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, healthy baby teeth are fundamental to a child's overall health and development.

Some babies are born with neonatal teeth (teeth that develop in the first month) that require dental hygiene or a visit to the dentist for their removal, according to YourDentistryGuide.com. At least one baby tooth erupts by six months of age. And, yes, it requires cleaning. From six months to 24 months, children begin teething in earnest, indicated by irritability, biting on objects, drooling and ear pulling. As a parent, you can help teething progress by using strategies such as massaging your child's gums, offering a chilled teething ring or cold, wet washcloth and asking your dentist for a teething ointment recommendation. By three years of age, most if not all baby teeth have erupted. Soon after four years, spaces for permanent teeth begin to appear as the jaw, supporting bone structure and facial bones begin to grow. From six to 12, it is typical for your child to have both baby teeth and permanent teeth in their mouth. More details can be found at this site: http://www.yourdentistryguide.com/children/.

It is very important to maintain the health of the primary teeth, according to Dentistry4Kids.com. Neglected cavities can and frequently do lead to problems which affect developing permanent teeth. Primary teeth, or baby teeth are important for (1) proper chewing and eating, (2) providing space for the permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and (3) permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles. Primary teeth also affect the development of speech and add to an attractive appearance. While the front 4 teeth last until 6-7 years of age, the back teeth (cuspids and molars) aren’t replaced until age 10-13.

Tooth brushing is one of the most important tasks for good oral health as well. According to Dentistry4Kids.com, many toothpastes, and/or tooth polishes, however, can damage young smiles. They contain harsh abrasives, which can wear away young tooth enamel. When looking for a toothpaste for your child, make sure to pick one that is recommended by the American Dental Association as shown on the box and tube. These toothpastes have undergone testing to insure they are safe to use. Remember, children should spit out toothpaste after brushing to avoid getting too much fluoride. If too much fluoride is ingested, a condition known as fluorosis can occur. If your child is too young or unable to spit out toothpaste, consider providing them with a fluoride free toothpaste, using no toothpaste, or using only a “pea size” amount of toothpaste.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that all pregnant women receive oral healthcare and counseling during pregnancy. According to Dentistry4Kids.com, research has shown evidence that periodontal disease can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Talk to your doctor or dentist about ways you can prevent periodontal disease during pregnancy. Additionally, mothers with poor oral health may be at a greater risk of passing the bacteria which causes cavities to their young children. Mother’s should follow these simple steps to decrease the risk of spreading cavity-causing bacteria:
--Visit your dentist regularly.
--Brush and floss on a daily basis to reduce bacterial plaque.
--Proper diet, with the reduction of beverages and foods high in sugar & starch.
--Use a fluoridated toothpaste recommended by the ADA and rinse every night with an alocohol-free, over-the-counter mouth rinse with .05 % sodium fluoride in order to reduce plaque levels.
--Don’t share utensils, cups or food which can cause the transmission of cavity-causing bacteria to your children.
--Use of xylitol chewing gum (4 pieces per day by the mother) can decrease a child’s caries rate.

You can make the first visit to the dentist enjoyable and positive, according to Dentistry4Kids.com. If old enough, your child should be informed of the visit and told that the dentist and their staff will explain all procedures and answer any questions. The less to-do concerning the visit, the better. It is best if you refrain from using words around your child that might cause unnecessary fear, such as needle, pull, drill or hurt. Pediatric dental offices make a practice of using words that convey the same message, but are pleasant and non-frightening to the child. A huge amount of material is available on this website that can assist you to find out much more about how to take care of your children's dental needs: http://www.dentists4kids.com/parents/dentaltopics/.

A huge number of children don't get to see a dentist. According to the California Society of Pediatric Dentistry, having any form of dental insurance significantly increases the odds of seeing a dentist on a regular basis — 54% of privately insured children and 27% of publicly insured children had seen the dentist in the last six months, compared to 12% of children without dental coverage. With all the information available to the general public about the importance of visiting a dentist on a regular basis, there are millions of children who still have not had dental treatment. Researchers found that Latino and African American children across all types of insurance were less likely than Asian American and white children to have visited the dentist in the prior six months. Similarly, Latino and African American children in public insurance programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), went to the dentist less often than white and Asian American children with the same insurance coverage.

According to FirstEval.com, regarding new federal legislation, i.e. health care reform – for dentists, it looks like it may have the biggest impact on pediatric dentistry (up to age 21) as all Americans under age 21 will either have to have or will be provided with dental coverage. So, that could mean a big flood of kids coming to dental offices when this goes in effect. Yet, these new patients may not be high-paying, or, the reimbursement rates for these children may not be on the high side. But, it could mean a big increase in volume of patients. And, the result may even mean new patients who have never been to a dentist before. As well, as of 2014, Medicaid coverage will greatly expand. In some states, this will include dental coverage, and in some states it won’t. Each state will determine its own set of standards for “comprehensive care for adults” that may or may not include dental coverage. In states where it DOES, this could mean another flood of patients to the dental market. The problem is, that as of today, states haven’t yet decided what these standards of care are yet – this is yet to be determined. But, this could probably be fairly easily predicted, based on a state’s current Medicaid coverage – i.e. (for example purposes only) let’s say that Texas provides rather “restrictive” benefits to its Medicaid recipients currently, while Vermont Medicaid recipients enjoy many more benefits and coverage. Medicaid is one of those programs that the federal government funds by giving a pot of money to states, and then states decide how to dole it out, meeting some minimum standards set by the feds. So Medicaid coverage varies from state to state.

According to Lexology.com, the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), often described as “sweeping” in terms of its impact on insurance and medical care, will also bring changes to dentistry. Few, however, would characterize the law’s immediate impact on the dental profession as “sweeping.” Some aspects of preliminary versions of the legislation that many experts believed could have hurt dentistry were eliminated or modified in the final version of the law, easing those concerns, but the package will have important repercussions for dentistry, particularly pediatric dentistry, in both the near and long term. Beginning in 2014, most US citizens and legal residents will be required to carry a minimum level of health insurance, referred to in PPACA as “minimum essential coverage,” or pay a penalty. Dental benefits are not specifically required as part of the minimum essential coverage which individuals must maintain, but all policies offered to individuals through the state-run Exchanges and in the individual and small insurance market outside of the state-run Exchanges will be required to cover pediatric oral care. PPACA will provide tax credits to low-income individuals and families to purchase insurance through the Exchanges. A “Qualified health benefit plan” is an insurance plan that provides “qualified coverage” for an “essential benefits package,” which includes pediatric oral care for children up to 21 years of age. The final version of PPACA expressly provides that stand-alone dental plans are permitted to operate in the Exchanges, either separately or in conjunction with qualified health plans if the dental plan provides pediatric dental benefits meeting the requirements of PPACA.

Dental care can be expensive, and many families do not go to the dentist because of the cost for pediatric care for their children. Unfortunately, this lack of treatment causes major dental and health care issues for any child who has not been on a dental care plan or seen a pediatric specialist. If you have dental insurance that includes pediatric care, then use it. Budget the monies to take your kids to the dentist before they suffer massive cavities, oral disease, or worse. Pediatric dental care is the first step in preventing serious health issues. If dental insurance is not provided as an employee option at your job, consider purchasing it on your own with affordable plans through qualified insurance carriers and your insurance agent. If your budget is too tight to afford insurance, then a great way to save money and get your kids great dental care is with a discount dental plan. Companies in the market place, such as Careington International (http://www.careington.com/), provide access to pediatric specialists nationwide through these plans for just a nominal monthly membership fee. You buy a membership and visit participating dentists, receiving a discount at the time of service from 20% to 60% on most procedures. And the entire family is automatically included.

Your kids need good teeth. Make sure they visit the dentist at least once a year if not more often. If your children miss the dentist, it could be much more costly for you as a parent with additional medical bills when they get sick. And, the Tooth Fairy will be there much more often, making a sizeable dent in someone's bank account.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Health Care and 10 Tips for Teens

Teenagers are in a brave new world. Since the 1960s in America, teens have exploded in their attempt to identify themselves in a society that has allowed them more freedom of expression than ever before since the history of the country. Much of that liberty is due to the devaluation of absolutes in the national culture, and a breakdown of moral values that has resulted from an absence of essential truths that historically had been propogated in the public school systems and elsewhere in the American psyche. Much of the new wave of expression demonstrated by teens over the past half century has also been media driven--social boundaries have been pushed to the maximum extremes with all types of information and access to material formerly seen as taboo prior to the last 50 years.

The health care of teenagers has taken a major hit as well with unprecedented rises in multiple areas of concern for life and death including sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, accidents, addictions, and new strains of drug resistant "bugs", such as MRSA. More adolescents than ever before are seeing attacks on their bodies and minds, and there is an ever increasing need to preach abstinence, common sense, preventive medicine, and counseling. The health of the American teenager is under attack from sources on all sides that would seek to do them in, and not be unashamed about their assault. The medical community has seen a rise over the past half century in health care issues that have health care providers concerned more than ever for the safety and well being of adolescent America.

Additionally, the average teen is becoming more slothful with the advent of computers and portable electronic devices in the past 10-20 years. According to ScienceDaily.com, researchers have shown how the proportion of young people who watch television and play on the computer for more than two hours per day doubles at the weekend. And while boys opt for video games, teenage girls prefer to surf the net. A sedentary lifestyle has become one of the major public health problems in developed countries. During the week, one-third of teenagers said the watched more than two hours of television per day. At weekends, this figure exceeds 60%. Now, more than ever, teenagers devote more time to sedentary behaviour (in front of a screen) at the weekend. In the study, teenagers indicated the amount of time they spent in front of the television, computer and games consoles, the amount of time spent connected to the Internet and the amount of time spent studying (outside school hours).

The researchers also studied the availability of computers, televisions and consoles at home and in teenagers' bedrooms, and their impact on whether they watched too much television (more than two hours per day). Having a games console or television in the bedroom triples the risk of exceeding the health recommendations to not spend more than two hours per day watching television. However, having a computer in the bedroom reduces the risk of excessive television watching. The authors also observed significant differences between the sexes in terms of the amount of time spent on sedentary pastimes. Adolescent girls are more sedentary in terms of the amount of time spent studying and surfing the net, while boys spend more time playing electronic games. More teen health news topics can also be found on this site: http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/health_medicine/teen_health/.

Additionally, teens experience a variety of other issues, according to ABCLocal.com:
1.) Eating Disorders:
--10% of people with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia are male.
--In the United States, as many as 10 in 100 young women suffer from an eating disorder.
--Warning signs: won't maintain a normal body weight for height and age, terrified of becoming fat, and says he or she feels fat even when he or she is not.
--Eating disorders rose significantly among American boys between 1995 and 2005.
--Increase in dieting and diet product use among female adolescents.
--The increased weight control behavior noted in males suggests growing social pressure for males to achieve unrealistic body expectations.
--Males have negative attitudes toward treatment-seeking and are less likely than females to seek treatment.
(From International Journal of Eating Disorders)

2.) Teen Pregnancy:
--Three out of 10 U.S. girls get pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday.
--After a 15-year decline in teen pregnancies, there was a 3 percent increase in the most recent year tallied.
--Most states leave the scope of sex education up to the local school boards.
--46% of all 15-19-year-olds in the United States have had sex at least once.

3.) Sexually Transmitted Infections:
--Although 15-24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half of all new STIs each year.
--Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections account for about half of STIs diagnosed among 15-24-year-olds each year.
--1 in 4 U.S. teen girls has an STI, with HPV being the most common.

4.) Teens and Stress:
--Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope.
--Inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or drug and/or alcohol use.

5.) Teens and Sleep:
--Most teens need about 8½ to more than 9 hours of sleep each night.
--Lack of sleep causes decline in grades at school, poor athletic performance, decreased reaction time while driving.
--20% of teens fall asleep in class.
--Caffeine and teens: teens who consume higher amounts of caffeine during the day sleep fewer hours at night and take more daytime naps.

So what should parents and health care professionals do about all these alarming statistics? Help is available from many sources, from internet sites devoted to teen health topics to counselors for mental, physical, and spiritual assistance, to clinics and facilities available to the public and private pay patients, and more. The key is to recognize warning signs before they get out of control or too far advanced. Preventive help is much easier than recovery. Being open and honest in communication to teens is extremely valuable, as well as lending a listening ear when they need to talk. Much of what happens during adolescence is due to changes going on mentally, socially, and physically with teens. Most often, they are confused and afraid of all the things happening to them at once and feel they have no one to talk to about their concerns. The teen adage that parents and all authority is bad comes largely from the impressions they get when those individuals who are in charge don't take time to listen to the teen angst happening all around them. Parents need as much counseling as teenagers, and even more help in many cases.

According to ChristianityToday.com, what teens want is real-world advice, some choice words for life. You'll find plenty of 'em in Proverbs—wise sayings that'll guide you and your teenager through just about anything life might throw your way. The book is packed with good advice. So, from Proverbs, here's a Top 10 List of wise words for life that will definitely help when faced with tough decisions about spiritual, mental, and physical health issues:

1.) Guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6)--"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." This might be the most quoted passage in all of Proverbs; maybe you've memorized it. But wherever you're headed in life, these words will always remind you who directs your steps.

2.) Discernment (Proverbs 14:12)--"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Yes, that verse ends on kind of a downer. But you get the point: Sometimes something seems right, but it might be the wrong choice after all. That's why we've always got to ask God to help us make wise decisions.

3.) Confidence (Proverbs 3:25-26)--"Have no fear of sudden disaster, or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared." Finishing high school can be kind of scary. Teens might not feel as confident as they did before. But remember: "The Lord will be your confidence."

4.) Work (Proverbs 6:6-9)--"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?" Life lessons from an ant? Yep. Ants might be the hardest-working critters alive. They're always busy, always planning ahead. Being on your own—whether in college or at a full-time job—is hard work. It's tempting to get lazy—especially in college, where it's easy to sleep through those early-morning classes. Mom won't be there to tell you, for the 14th time, to get out of bed; there will be "no commander, no overseer or ruler." You'll have to kick yourself into gear, because nobody else will do it for you.

5.) Relationships (Proverbs 12:26)--"A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.Here's a great verse on choosing friends wisely." As you begin to develop new friendships after high school, ask God to point you to people who won't lead you astray.

6.) Sexual purity (Prov. 6:25-26, 28)--"Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. … Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?" You might be saying, "Prostitutes and adultery? That doesn't apply to me." But these verses are about much more than that. They're about the strong temptation of sex, a temptation that affects us all. This passage clearly says sex outside of marriage is also outside of God's perfect plan. When we violate that plan, we walk "on hot coals"—and get burned.

7.) Money (Proverbs 11:28)--"Whoever trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf." Whether you're off to college or a job, it's easy to think that money will bring happiness or solve your problems. But the Bible is clear that money doesn't do those things. If you wanna "thrive like a green leaf," pursue righteousness, not riches.

8.) Parents (Proverbs 23:22, 25)--"Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. … May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!" It's perfectly natural to want independence—and, ultimately, to break away from Mom and Dad. But don't rush that process. Even when you're on your own, your parents are still your parents and deserve your respect. Do what you can to make them proud and glad you're their kid.

9.) Compassion (Proverbs 19:17)--"He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done." We all tend to get so caught up in our own lives that we sometimes forget there are hurting people all around us. But God always wants us to share his great love with others. Volunteer with a local ministry. Take a short-term missions trip. Make time to reach out and touch someone.

10.) The Future (Proverbs 23:18)--"There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off." You're probably wondering what your future holds. But this verse says you don't have to worry about it: If you follow God, he'll take care of it—and he'll take care of you. Nothing can cut you off from his love. He will carry you through, all the way.

Great tips for life, whether you're a teen or not.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.