BENNINGTON >> Mount Anthony Union High School students on Friday got to see firsthand just what tooth decay looks like.
Members of the Bennington Oral Health Coalition gave a crash-course in oral hygiene to Charles Marsden's health class.
"These are teeth that were so thoroughly decayed that they had to be removed," coalition member Lisa Kazazean said as she passed several plastic bags containing extracted teeth around the room.
Members said that having good brushing and eating habits, prevent tooth decay, which along with cavities, affects a person's quality of life, can lead to big medical bills, and impact your social and work life.
Members encouraged students to talk to their parent or guardian, school nurse, teacher or trusted adult if they have not been regularly going to a dentist, but would like to.
"We want you to go through life with teeth," Kazazean told students.
According to state reports, Bennington County ranks among the worst areas in the state for tooth decay in children.
The Oral Health Coalition was initially formed to study ways of improving oral health in the community, and was the group behind the most recent effort to introduce fluoride into Bennington's drinking water, a proposal that was defeated at the polls. Since then, they've been focussing on other ways to improve oral health.
The coalition is not related to the Select Board's Oral Health Commission.
Friday's visit one stop the coalition is making this year. According to Kazazean, members have done presentations in elementary and middle schools, but this was the first in high school. The coalition is also working with the school to install a dental chair for screenings.
Rachel Rodney, a registered dietician, held up a poster with bottles of soda and sports drinks and underneath, small bags of white sugar. Every four grams of sugar translates to one teaspoon of sugar, she said. Sports drinks can have as much sugar as soda — a healthier choice is water, she said.
Marylou Chicote, a registered hygienist, told students about placque, the invisible, sticky coating that forms on teeth and is made up of bacteria that lives in peoples' mouths.
Once in your mouth, she said, bacteria turns sugar into acids within about 20 seconds. The acid soaks into grooves and ridges of teeth and, after enough time, will eat away the tooth.
Brush twice a day, she advised, but not right after eating a sugary snack.
"You're actually brushing acid right into the teeth," she said. She said it's best to dilute the acid with water.
Members also referenced studies that drew correlations between individuals with poor dental health and poor job prospects.
"There are people who unfortunately have not gotten jobs because of their teeth," Kazazean said.
After the presentation, Kazazean said that for many families, money is a major barrier to dental care. But Vermont youth under the age of 19 can receive insurance coverage under Dr. Dynosaur, free or low-cost, publicly funded health insurance, she said.
For more information on the coalition, visit www.benningtonoralhealth.com.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979