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Dr. Stork delivers advice for pregnant women. And it begins with our teeth

Dr. Travis Stork talks pregnancy, spinny brushes and feeling too lazy to brush with me.I began with a little bit about how funny my son thought it was that a six-months pregnant lady was making a call on Dr. Stork. And he laughed, which is good because - yes, fans of The Doctors and even longer-term lovers of The Bachelor - emergency physician Dr. Travis Stork is delightful. Also? Dreamy. 


He leans in, rests an arm on my shoulder and congratulates me repeatedly on having a baby on the way.

"Take good care," he says as he hugs me later. I will. OF MY TEETH. I mean that. Oral health care and mamas, particularly pregnant mamas, is what we are discussing, and Dr. Stork is invested in women steering clear of gum disease and getting back to regular check-ups. 


But first he tells me this: He's delivered his share of babies in the ER, but it's not his best doctor skill. I think we can forgive him that, right? Back to the teeth, ladies. COME ON. It's National Women's Health Week, after all.


"Pregnant women have to be very careful," Dr. Stork advises. But he's not putting out a big scare-tactic call to add to the long list of DON'Ts that bombard mother-to-be. Instead, I've asked him to tell us what we can do that will be helfpul and healthy, and so he's sharing facts.


While the rest of the population has a really high rate of ginvities - one out of two people get the gum bleed that can lead to much bigger dental problems - pregnant women exceed that. About 70% of expectant mothers have gingivitis, Dr. Stork shares, and it impacts her health and is a concern for her long-term well-being.


"I know for myself, I'm not pregnant," he smiles. And, you guys, he's a charmer, he didn't even need to finish this sentence. But..but...this is an area of care that is too easy to neglect, and also too easy to remedy. 


Bleeding gums are common during pregnancy, but too often ignored. (How often would you just pretend you weren't bleeding from an eyeball? Dr. Stork asks this with a smile, but it's a legitimate question.) Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which can deepen the gum disease infection into the bones and tissue. This makes for more than discomfort in the dental chair. Some studies (not all, to be fair) have linked gum disease to things pregnant women really don't want to deal with, like preterm birth and low birth weight.


Self-care, he says, can be handled in five minutes (six if you are super-thorough) a day of the basic brushing, flossing and a quick rinse. Moms (and I am adding this in) are also setting the precedent for kids who grow up taking good care of their teeth, and then all of the health benefits that spring out of well-tended oral care. 


It happens all the time - mothers are vigilent about toothbrushing and six-month check-ups for their kids but neglect their own oral health care.
If a mom is teetering on that line of gingivitis or has not tended to her own dental care, what is the very first thing she should do?


"Schedule a dental appointment," Dr. Stork says definitively. And then, on the way home, stop by the drug store and invest in the tools you need to make oral health care a part of your lifestyle, not just a one-time reaction to a worrisome upcoming cleaning.


"DAILY," he underlines. That is how often women have to recommit to the brush-floss-rinse routine. "Not every other day, not once a week."


How can pregnant ladies (all the pregnant ladies, hold your floss up!) and all moms begin our new routine for brighter, shinier, healthier smiles today? Here are a few more tips from my new favorite The Doctors doctor, Dr. Stork.


Spinny brush or no spinny brush? "It's personal preference," he says. His personal preference, after reading clinical studies and getting dentist recommendation, is a spinny brush. Why? Because unless you are "a master of the brush," the spin variety wields better cleaning results. Most importantly, brush every day, twice a day (are you getting the timing emphasis here yet?).


The biggest mistake we're making with teeth whitening? "Letting stuff build up in the first place," Dr. Stork (who clarifies here he's a "non-dentist") says. "It's the little things." Simply rinsing our mouths with water after drinking coffee or red wine will make a big difference. And if that sounds tedious, consider that Dr. Stork himself drinks water after a half-glass of wine to keep his pearly whites so pearly and white. 


If you do get to the place where whitening feels like the right next move, talk to your dentist first, he says. Many of us have sensitivities that will color which brand or usage is best for us, so personalized advice is important.


And if you're having trouble or feel too tired at night to brush? Then keep a toothbrush, floss and mouthwash where it is convenient. He says he has a stash in the downstairs powder room, so he can take care of tooth business after watching TV and before heading up to bed, or whenever he has a break. The kitchen is another place to keep an extra set so every one in the family is reminded to brush and floss morning and night. I've personally known moms who have no shame in flossing in the carpool lane, and I think Dr. Stork would approve. Making oral health care convenient is smart, especially for those of us juggling schedules and snacks know this already.


This post is sponsored in partnership with One2One Network and Crest Pro-Health. Crest Pro-Health (paste, brush, rinse, and floss) is on sale for $2.99 each PLUS when you buy 2 you get 1 free. This offer is valid from 5/18-5/24.



When the poetry is a prison. And the words set you free

He handed me this paper, written more neatly than normal, and said only, "Look this up. I wrote it down to be sure you read it."

I knew E had been studying poetry. My mother volunteers a two days a week to work with reading groups. She is enamored with the teacher, and she, a veteran teacher and reading specialist, has very high standards. She calls me regularly to report in on happenings in the class and on little, impactful moments that seem to have reminded her over and over why she loves this calling. And so I knew that that the third-grade class was beginning a poetry unit even before E told me. 

A substitute was in class the day they read this poem. My mother was also there and the sub told her that she was so impressed with E's comments on the poem. E had been irritated his regular teacher was out.

"That's a good sign, I guess," I replied, smiling, "when you are upset to have a substitute rather than thrilled." 

He agreed. It was the half-hour or so of homework and cuddling and catch-up that we do on Wednesday evenings before he races off with his dad that he handed me the sheet and I pulled out my phone and read to myself, then allowed him to take my phone so he could re-read the words right after me.

I felt a great pause pull into my many thoughts about this year, about the intellectual burst E has had, about the projects on Chicago architecture and biographies and slaves bounding for freedom and Native Americans in this region and the Great Chicago Fire and children who worked in factories during that era. About the structured, compassionate teacher with high expectations who has been a force of thoughtfulness and team-building and strategy and growth for my son and his class. About how teary I am to see the delight in my boy's face as he solves multiplication problems using the lattice method or connects the Underground Railroad to the hidden Jews of the Holocaust. About how much I wonder at his care and concern at the missing Nigerian girls, bullied gay students, if the Blackhawks will get to the Stanley Cup.

He is becoming more and more himself, and much of that is happening because of the sparks flying in his brain. A great, big part of that is what is happening in his classroom.

Still, the pause came when I took in the words that had so moved my nine-year old because I felt astounded by them myself, by the beauty and heartbreak and hope, by the haunting imagery and meaning. 

"I love that you love this poem." It was all I could say for that moment.

"I love this poem." He said back.

"Tell me why it speaks to you," I wanted to know.

"Because the guard judges him for his thoughts. But it is the guard who is really in prison," he explained.

"Yes. And I love it because it explains how we can feel trapped in our own lives, whether we are literally in prison or just feeling isolated, but we can still be free in our minds," I added.

"YES!" His face lit up in recognition. "This is what I was thinking. That's what I said in class."

Later, he asked what Damascus is. And Algiers. And Bagdhad. He was still thinking. The poem hadn't left me, either.

And so now we share these words and this wonder.

I will keep that slip of paper and the poem pulled up on my phone because it marks a moment and a connection and love of poetry that began with Shel Silverstein and will go on and on and on. I will keep it to remind myself how obvious it is that thoughts, on paper and screens and in our minds and in classrooms, can break us out of the clausterphobia and isolation, and bring us together in reminder that we are so free.

The Prison Cell

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom. 


When HIV hits home. Your home: Let's stop HIV together

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Last summer, the then-eight-year old boy strapped in the backseat - my son and optimist and dance partner and silly pants and ardent recycler and kid who has asked profound questions since he could string a sentence together - asked me what AIDS is. 

I had to tell him. I had to be honest. It was one of those profound parenting moments when you know you are revealing an unkind, unfair, heartbreaking truth of the world to someone who still sees nearly everything as wondrous, and the responsibility is great and necessary.

A friend of mine was in town for most of the summer, sitting at the hospital bedside of a loved one who was dying of AIDS. He was too young. He was beautiful. He was a father, a nephew, a cousin, a son, a talent, and it was all coming to a close, painfully and too suddenly. My friend reached out and I went to her, because this is what you do. The next day, my son and I brought bags of snacks and wine and water to the family, because that is another thing you do. That's when E asked me why, what was going on - and I told him, because that is also what you do.

Our conversation was about how AIDS is transmitted and how to do everything you can to prevent it. That led to talking more about sex (we'd already covered the basics of bodies and procreation and puberty several times) and consent and, of course, condoms. There was much concern (by us both) and many questions (by him). Could condoms be recycled? How do you know how to use them? Why do people have sex if it can be dangerous? 

They were all good questions with complicated answers. I did my best to keep it simple, to speak calmly and compassionately and concisely. I told him that if two people are too embarrassed or uninformed or unwilling to talk about and USE condoms, they are not ready to have sex. I told him that sex feels good, and it feels best when both people are taking care of themselves and each other. 

I also told him I'd seen too many people - all men in the '80's and early '90's - die of AIDS, most of them at our church and some of them, teachers at my school. It broke my heart then and it does now. It is time for us each to do what we can to bring this whole terrible thing to an end. That begins with information, with knowing. 

I didn't expect that conversation to be the next sex-talk in line with my boy. But there it was, and I am so glad we had it then, and that it continues to be an open topic at home. When my friend's loved one passed away, I cried and cried through the funeral. When I got home, my son met me at the door and I held him so tight. An unfathomable amount had been lost that summer - and that was just one young man in one family.

When the CDC asked me to meet two mothers living with HIV on a recent conference call, I couldn't help but replay those moments, that conversation and my prayers on repeat to the universe to spare my son the wrenching pain and consequences that can come out of simple choices or complex situations. 

Michelle and Masonia - two inspiring mothers who are living with HIV, fiercely fighting to protect their children and advocate for families exposed to HIV and AIDS - told us their own stories, shared the fearful moments of diagnosis, opened up about discrimination and, through tears, explained how their kid had been impacted. They also hold an incredible hope in their palms. Information, resources and connecting are all critical to stopping HIV and overcoming the segregation, despair and spread of the disease. 

The statistics are startling - and maybe they should be. This is our call to prevent more people, and particularly mothers and children, from exposure, from discrimination, from not having access to treatment or information. It's our time to take action.

As you will hear in this moment out of Michelle's story, HIV and women is not just about sex. And goes well beyond condoms. It includes tough and important conversations about domestic violence, race, gender, maternal health and so much more that it has been just too, too easy to turn away from. We have to start somewhere, with ourselves and in our discussions with our kids. But we also need to know that this is a big, big picture with lots of people inside. 

That might begin with a conversation with your own children. It may mean asking your OB/GYN or local clinic for a test, no matter how low- or no-risk you think you may be. It could start with reading these facts. It could mean sharing Michelle and Masonia's stories, or choosing to be in activist in your own ways, in your own city. Whatever you do, please do

Thanks to Michelle and Masonia and the many others who are bravely sharing stories through the CDC's Let's Stop HIV Together campaign. And thank you for reading, caring, doing.