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Health Q&A

Posted October 10, 2012 in Advice Column, West Des Moines

Q: Did George Washington really have wooden false teeth?

A: Our first president was plagued with dental difficulties, losing most of his teeth to periodontal (gum) disease while still in his 20s. Contrary to popular belief, though, Washington never had wooden dentures. They were made from gold, elephant ivory, hippopotamus tusk and human teeth. A set is on display at Mount Vernon, his Virginia home. Modern dentures are commonly made with acrylic and porcelain.

One of Washington’s dentists was a fellow named John Greenwood. In 1790, Greenwood adapted his mother’s foot-operated spinning wheel to create the first-known dental drilling machine. Washington lost his teeth long before 1913, the year the phrase “dental hygiene” was coined in Bridgeport, Conn., where Dr. Alfred Civilion Fones started a school of hygiene. The school remains in operation today as part of the University of Bridgeport.

The earliest known reference of a dentist, by the way, dates to 2600 B.C. An inscription on the tomb of an Egyptian scribe named Hesy-Re calls him “the greatest of those who deal with teeth.” The practice of dentistry has come a long way.

Information provided by Des Moines Dental Group, 708 First Ave S., 967-6611.

Q: What can I do to have healthy eyes?

A: I am often asked, “What vitamins can I take that are healthy for my eyes?” With each person having different nutritional needs, possible cross reactions with medications and even the chance vitamin poisoning; I like to take a step back and discuss lifestyle decisions that are eye healthy.

Giving up smoking or not smoking is the number one decision a person can make for healthy eyes. Studies have shown smoking increases the risk of developing macular degeneration by two to five times. Smoking is also associated with early cataract formation.

Regular exercise is another import factor for healthy eyes.  Exercise increases blood flow to the eyes and aids in maintaining blood vessel integrity. Exercise of moderate intensity for 30 minutes three times a week has been proven to reduce the risk for developing macular degeneration and delay cataracts.

A diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables is also healthy for the eyes. These foods contain antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, which protect cells from damage. Spinach, kale and other leafy greens contain pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin. These pigments, naturally found in the retina, play a role in visual acuity in times of low contrast and are important for night vision.

A simple concept to remember is what’s healthy for the heart is also healthy for the eyes. Instead of looking for another pill to take, incorporate these choices for healthy eyes and vision.

Information provided by Dr. Thomas Augustin, Vision Park Family Eye Care, 640 S. 50th St. Suite 2180, West Des Moines, 225-8667.

Q: I’ve heard of cataracts, but what exactly are they?

A: A cataract is a clouding of the lens on the inside of the eye, which is normally clear so that we can see through it. This clouding or yellowing of the lens causes a person’s vision to be obscured. This is a normal aging change in the eye, meaning almost everyone will develop cataracts at some point.

The initial effects of a cataract usually include slightly foggy vision and/or decreased vision in dim lighting or extremely bright light (glare). Temporary treatment measures may include changing eyeglass lenses more frequently, wearing sunglasses to reduce glare and using brighter lighting indoors. Once cataracts have advanced to the point that daily life is affected, surgery is the only permanent treatment.
Although the diagnosis can be scary, cataracts usually progress slowly, and technological advances have made the surgery a fairly safe, non-invasive, outpatient procedure. An added bonus is that many patients are less dependent on glasses after cataract surgery. It is important to have yearly eye appointments to monitor the health of your eyes, including cataracts and the many eye diseases we are able to diagnose during a comprehensive exam.

Information provided by Dr. Lisa Lansink, One Hour Optical, 4100 University Ave., West Des Moines, 244-1317.

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