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What’s the scariest part of Halloween? Cavities.

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They can be gummy, crunchy, sour or sweet, but one thing all candies have in common is that they decay your teeth. With an eye on Halloween, the American Dental Hygienists Association designated October as National Dental Hygiene Month. “Oral health is more than just fixing cavities,” said Michelle McGregor, director of the Dental Hygiene Program at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. VCU’s dental hygiene program is the only program of its kind within a dental school in the state. On Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m. McGregor will be live on the VCU Health Facebook page to discuss dental hygiene and demonstrate good dental health practices. Prior to the talk, we spoke with her about oral health habits, the role of a dental hygienist and, of course, candy.

 

What does a dental hygienist do?

Michelle McGregor.
Michelle McGregor.

Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals focused on maintaining good oral health. A dental hygienist provides prophylaxis (teeth cleanings), examines the teeth and mouth for signs of disease, provides head and neck oral cancer screenings, polishes teeth and provides education to patients on how to maintain optimal oral health.

Is there an advantage to attending the VCU School of Dentistry to become a dental hygienist?

Yes! Students have the opportunity to work alongside dental students in the classroom and in clinic. They learn from dental faculty, dental hygiene faculty, dental specialist and medical faculty. Students treat a diverse patient population in Richmond at VCU Dental Care. VCU School of Dentistry dental hygiene students also have the opportunity to see patients in community-based clinical settings in underserved areas throughout Virginia.

How can patients prevent tooth decay and dental problems?

Patients can prevent tooth decay by brushing correctly at least two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between their teeth, eating healthy foods and limiting snacks. Abstaining from tobacco products also helps prevent oral health issues. It is important to see a dental professional regularly to assist in preventing problems and to address any issues.

Why is maintaining good oral health important?

Oral health problems can include gingivitis, periodontal disease, oral cancers and broken teeth. Good oral health affects speech, aesthetics, self-esteem and much more.

What is the biggest challenge in maintaining good oral health habits?

It can be difficult to change old habits if good oral health isn’t an established part of a patient’s routine. Time, money and access to care also impede good oral health practices.   

Halloween means lots of sugary treats. Should we skip the trick-or-treating?

Halloween is only once a year. We should be mindful of the frequency of our sugar intake every day, but there is nothing wrong with an occasional sweet treat.