PARKERSBURG - Members of the Mid-Ohio Valley Board of Health learned the oral health implications of a condition known as "Mountain Dew Mouth" that is prevalent in the Appalachian region.
"I came across a law brief written by Priscilla Harris, an associate professor with the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., that caught my attention," said Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. "The paper was about citric acid-based beverages (Mountain Dew) as opposed to phosphoric acid-based drinks (Coke)."
Dana Singer, program developer with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, gave a presentation Tuesday that stated this area of the country has the highest percentage of people without any teeth by the age of 65 years old.
Photo by Jolene Craig
Dana Singer, program developer with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, gives a presentation to the Mid-Ohio Valley Board of Health on the “Mountain Dew Mouth” issue Tuesday evening as Dick Wittberg, center, executive director of the department, board chair Eleanor Little, far left, and Wood County Commission representative Blair Couch, far right, watch.
"West Virginia has more than 24 percent of adults with no teeth," Singer said.
Harris joined the meeting via phone and said she wrote the paper after seeing the harm people were doing to their teeth by drinking Mountain Dew and other citric acid-based drinks constantly.
"The focus on sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and other sweetened beverages) has been on obesity, and canned citric acid drinks have gotten little attention and could be causing the biggest problem," Harris said. "By having the focus on obesity, we are ignoring the oral health problems."
Singer and Harris said people in the Appalachian region tend to drink citric acid-based drinks, especially Mountain Dew, like water and throughout the day.
"There are people drinking massive amounts of these drinks each day," Harris said. "One patient told a dentist during one of our clinics that he drank a case of Mountain Dew a day.
"It is mind boggling, the damage that these drinks can cause," she said. "The big difference is not that you drink these things, but how they are consumed because people tend to sip on Mountain Dew and like beverages all day and that constant exposure is what causes the damage."
The health issues are because citric acid attacks tooth enamel and eats it away.
"Tooth enamel is like the tooth's armor and once that is gone, you cannot save the tooth," Harris said. "Really, prevention is the focus here."
Harris said there is no treatment for the condition and there is no scientific diagnosis of Mountain Dew Mouth.
Mary Beth Shea, oral health coordinator for the MOVHD, said she sees this problem all of the time through the department's adult dental screening and referral program.
"We have people come in all of the time saying they drink more than six Mountain Dews a day and the area dentists we work with say they see this condition all of the time and it is a big issue," Shea said. "A lot of the patients coming into the dental clinic don't have a clue of the causes of their tooth decay."
Not only does citric acid soften and remove enamel, but the sugar in the drinks along with bacteria in the mouth cause the teeth to rot through cavities, she said.
"This is the start of our discussion on this problem," Wittberg said.
The board also passed the first of two required readings to revise the region's Clean Indoor Air Regulation to allow smoking in areas where it is not currently regulated - bingo halls, retail tobacco stores, hotel/motel rooms and private assembly locations - until May 1, 2014.
"We are allowing this exemption as a board having gotten input from the state with concern that these places should be treated the same way as all other locations," Wittberg said.
After that date, those places will not be allowed to have smoking inside, according to the regulations set forth by the board.