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Dentists can help patients 'savor the flavor' of healthy eating

March 02, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

The sippy cups full of juice that frequently come with the preschool-aged patients Dr. Rocky Napier, a pediatric dentist in Aiken, South Carolina, sees every week are among the reasons he makes nutrition counseling with kids and families one of his office's top priorities.
Replacing juice with water and using a smaller cup are among the tips he shares with families.
"One message I always give is if you'll at least try to change one behavior — and you won't get it 100 percent right every day — at least try and think about these behavior changes you can make. That can go a long way," said Dr. Napier.
March is National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It's a good time to remind dentists of their role in educating patients about proper nutrition. This year, the campaign slogan is "Savor the flavor of eating right."
The ADA House of Delegates in 2009 passed policies that encourage dentists to educate and counsel patients about proper nutrition and oral health. It also in 2009 passed a policy stating its support for collaborative efforts with other health professionals, including dietitians and nutritionists, to combat the growing problems of obesity.
For more information about National Nutrition Month, including resources to share with patients, visit EatRight.org/NNM. Dentists can also refer patients to MouthHealthy.org, the ADA's consumer information web site, for information and nutrition and oral health.
ADA News talked with two dentists, Dr. Napier and Dr. Christine Landes, a pediatric dentist in Newtown, Penn., who specialize in pediatric dentistry and take different approaches in educating their patients.

Dr. Napier
Dr. Napier

ADA News: How do you approach your patients about the topic of nutrition?

Dr. Napier: I really try and concentrate on the preschool children and their families and the age one dental visit so that we can begin early intervention efforts. Beginning with the first visit, as part of their medical and dental history and overall exam, we have a series of questions that we use as part of our caries risk assessment for them. One of the areas covered in this assessment is diet and nutrition.

ADA News: What do you and your dental team do when you find out your patients practice unhealthy diet habits?

Dr. Napier: We sit down with the parents and child and we provide anticipatory guidance, looking at behaviors or habits that may be most important to address, prioritizing and getting parents to start working on one or two healthy changes over the next six months (e.g. drink more water and fewer sweetened beverages.)We talk about specific foods and drinks and how they may increase caries susceptibility.

ADA News: How do patients respond to this type of counseling?

Dr. Napier: You have to do it step by step rather than overwhelm them with information in one visit. One message I always give is it's always a process and we're trying to help and minimize costs for the both of us. Often parents will come in and say "we're trying" and I say "that's what I want for you, is to try every day."

Dr. Landes
Dr. Landes

ADA News: How is nutrition counseling implemented in your office?

Dr. Landes: We have an in-house, full-time nutritionist who sees patients — both children and adults — with caries and/or new patients with a high risk of dental disease. There is no extra fee for patients who meet with her. It's a practice benefit for our families.

ADA News: How do you think it benefits patients to have a nutritionist available to them?

Dr. Landes: They become more aware of their choices and behaviors. It can be confusing for people to understand diet's relationship with caries. People are receptive to meeting with the nutritionist, though I do get people who come here just to get their cavities fixed — I'll educate them the best I can and hope I've given them some tools to become cavity-free.

ADA News: Why is it important to you to make sure your patients know about diet's relationship with oral health?

Dr. Landes: Many people in my educated community do not understand what to eat or how to avoid dental caries. Having our nutritionist available helps to thoroughly treat the patient. Caries is a disease process we can help control; let's start this way.