Dental Dilemma: Dentists continue to battle 'Mountain Dew Mouth' - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Dental Dilemma: Dentists continue to battle 'Mountain Dew Mouth'

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Dental Dilemma: Dentists continue to battle 'Mountain Dew Mouth' Dental Dilemma: Dentists continue to battle 'Mountain Dew Mouth'

The green bottles pop up in stores and on the street. People order the drink at restaurants and carry the cans around town. Law enforcement officers say they've even become a fixture at meth lab scenes. The 'Dew' seems to be everywhere these days.

The passion jumps barriers of age and socioeconomics. People love Mountain Dew. But why?

Common answers oscillate between the taste, the caffeine, or "just because."

When it comes to that extra jolt, Mountain Dew does contain some of the highest levels of caffeine.

One serving (8 fl oz.) contains 36 milligrams of caffeine. Compare that to Mello Yello (35 mg/ 8 fl oz.), Dr. Pepper (27 mg/8 fl oz.), and Pepsi (25 mg/8 fl oz.).

The drink also boasts a high level of sugar: more than 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12 oz. can, according to data compiled by the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. On average, beverages such as Pepsi and Dr. Pepper contain 9.45 and 9.05 teaspoons of sugar, respectively.

The soft drink became embedded in Appalachia long ago. Priscilla Norwood Harris chronicled the history of Mountain Dew in a now-infamous research paper entitled, "Undoing the Damage of the Dew," which was published in the Appalachian Journal of Law in 2009. Two brothers in Kentucky concocted the drink more than 60 years ago to use as a mixer in their bourbon, Harris wrote.

But some fear the cultural icon is destroying the teeth of Appalachia. And it's not just Mountain Dew. Soft drinks make up most dentists' worst nightmares, many times the root of pain, decay, and tooth loss.

"The problem I see with Mountain Dew is the same with other drinks. Sugar, is sugar is, sugar, as far as I'm concerned," said Charles Sammons, a dentist based in Kermit.

Sammons said it's not about whether you drink soda, it's how often. In his opinion, the term "Mountain Dew Mouth" can apply to people who drink all types of pop, not just the citrus-flavored beverage.

"It's not the quantity, it's the frequency," he said.

Sammons described a process that supports his philosophy. It takes 20 minutes for the salivary glands in your mouth to kick it, he said. Saliva neutralizes acid, which decays teeth. The dentist says it's actually better to drink soda in one 20-minute period than several times throughout the day.

He explained the glands can better battle the acid within a short time frame, rather than repeatedly over several hours.

Sammons said the younger generation needs more access to education, especially when it comes to dental hygiene.

"I did dentures on a 16-year-old patient," Sammons said. "That was troublesome for me."

The 30-year dental veteran pushes moderation and education when it comes to oral health, but he's not alone.

Mary Beth Shea works as an oral health coordinator at the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg. She also helps run Smiles for Life, an adult dental screening and referral program. Since 2011, Shea and others have screened more than 946 adults. She said more than 300 low-income patients are on the waiting list.

"Oral problems can be prevented," said Shea, who preaches self-empowerment. "It's personal habits. It's personal responsibility."

A cautionary poster depicting rotten teeth hangs in direct eyesight of the patient's chair. So clients remember to drink responsibly, she says.

Through grant money, Shea gives bags of personal supplies to patients, along with some directions. The packages include toothpaste, dental floss, and a toothbrush, tools she was surprised many people don't know how to properly use.

But is the state of dental care in West Virginia improving?

One could argue services are becoming more available to children.

During 2013-14, 12 new West Virginia School-Based Health Assemblies opened across the state, according to the organization's annual report. They join 86 other centers in 32 counties.

These assemblies offer a wide array of health services to students including oral care. Virtually nothing of this scope and scale existed nearly 20 years ago.

A comparison between two surveys showed a slight improvement in the number of people who visit the dentist annually.

In 1999, 56.4 percent of adults in West Virginia older than 18 said they visited a dentist or dental clinic in the past year. The figure jumps to nearly 60 percent in 2008, according to data compiled by the National Oral Health Surveillance System.

It appears adults are losing less teeth to tooth decay and gum disease, as well.

Seventy four percent of adults older than 65 years of age reported losing six or more teeth, according to data in 1999. Nine years later, 65.6 percent represented the same age group.

The campaign to save chompers is spreading; small acts that can perhaps save smiles, tooth by tooth. Billboards across the state promote regular brushing. Just this month, students at Ohio University Southern met with parent advocates to discuss how sugar affects teeth. They created pamphlets detailing helpful habits to teach to children.

"If you don't properly brush your teeth, care, and maintain, your teeth won't hold up," said student Sarah Dillon.

PepsiCo, the maker of Mountain Dew, released this statement to 13News:

"We understand the importance of oral health and while there are multiple causes of tooth decay, there are many preventative measures that can help minimize it. We have always marketed our products responsibly and, with basic dental hygiene practices, people have enjoyed soft drinks for decades without risk to their dental health."