Good Health Magazine : PULSE : NO! NO! NOT THE DENTIST!

Doheny writes the weekly Your Body column for The Times.

About 12 million Americans are dental phobics, too scared to sit in the dentist's chair for even routine care. These people should go in with a battle plan, says Dr. Carl Jepsen, co-founder of the Health Center of Medical, Dental and Psychological Services in San Diego. As cited recently in the California Dental Assn. Journal, Jepsen tells patients: Communicate your fear to the dentist. You're probably not his first fearful patient. For six hours before the appointment, avoid coffee, tea or other beverages that contain caffeine. You'll be less jittery. Decide in advance on a signal to let the dentist know you need a break during treatment. Patients who feel in control are less scared. Breathe normally. Sit in a relaxed position, with hands folded over your abdomen.


Those new microwaveable breakfasts with healthful-sounding names may seem a godsend--but don't push the start button yet. You may be better off skipping breakfast, says Jayne Hurley, a nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The center evaluated more than 50 microwaveable breakfasts, but none merited a "Best Bite" recommendation. Problems? Too much fat and too much salt. Many of the meals get more than half their calories from fat; some get 75%. One microwaveable breakfast variety contains more salt than the recommended intake for an entire day. So forget your mom's childhood nagging. "The truth is," Hurley writes, " what you eat for breakfast is more important than if you eat breakfast. There is no solid evidence linking breakfast to better health or performance, at least not in adults."


If possible, women should not schedule surgery during their menstrual cycle, says Dr. Trinsa Lindblad, a physician at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The risk of nausea and vomiting is reduced during the time between menstrual periods, she told colleagues at a recent meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. She bases the advice on her study of 85 women undergoing surgery. Half were menstruating; half were not. At the conclusion of surgery, nausea and vomiting occurred in 85% of menstruating women but in only 56% of nonmenstruating ones. Changing estrogen levels in the blood of menstruating women may be related to their higher rate of nausea and vomiting, Lindblad speculates.


So you indulged and ate one measly slice of pizza, all 300 calories of it. How long could it take to work off? Longer than you might imagine, according to the Scripps Clinic Personal Health Letter. "A 150-pound person would have to jog for 15 minutes, walk for one hour or sit still for three and three-quarter hours."


Patients about to undergo surgery that requires anesthesia should not chew gum for at least one hour before, Georgia researchers say. The gum chewing stimulates production of gastric juices and increases the volume of liquid in the patient's stomach, says Dr. Steven A. Dubin, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Georgia, who bases his advice on a study of patients, half of whom chewed gum before surgery and half of whom did not.


Breast-fed babies of smoking mothers ingest nearly 3,000 nanograms of nicotine with each ounce of milk, notes the Scripps Clinic Personal Health Letter. These infants are also at risk for elevated blood pressure.


Broken bones are traumatic enough, but itchy skin underneath a cast can be terribly annoying. Resist the urge to use a coat hanger or stick to scratch that itch, suggests a Health After 50 newsletter published by Johns Hopkins. Instead, use a hair dryer turned to a cool setting to blow talcum or baby powder onto the itchy skin.


Prospective parents, take note. A child's name can affect self-image, popularity and, to some extent, success. One's appearance and one's name create a good or bad first impression, says Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor of psychology and author of "The Name Game: The Decision That Lasts a Lifetime" (National Press Books). "Many names are selected by whim, instinct or family tradition. Parents owe it to their children to select a name that will help, not handicap, them." In researching his book, Mehrabian gave respondents a name and asked them to imagine they were about to meet that "person." Among the findings: For females, Jacqueline and Katherine are associated with success and Prudence with morality. Stacy was rated the most cheerful and Beth the warmest, with Brooke the healthiest and Bunny the most feminine. For males, James and Madison implied success and Moses morality. Moses was rated tops for warmth, too, and Scott most cheerful. Chad sounded healthiest and Conan the most masculine.


"Most people believe that colds are transmitted by coughing and sneezing, but cold viruses are more often spread by hand contact," says Dr. Ronald Greenfield, associate professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "These viruses can live outside the body for several hours; washing the hands is the best way to keep from spreading them to another person." It doesn't matter much, Greenfield says, whether you use cold or hot water. But rub your hands together vigorously to dilute and eliminate the bacteria.


Men are more likely than women to suffer headaches, according to a survey by the National Headache Foundation in which 70% of the men reported headaches three times as often as the women. Once a woman gets a headache, though, it lasts longer. About half of the women surveyed said their pain lasted several days, while more than half of the headachy men said their pain lasted several hours. Favorite routes to relief? Over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Among migraine sufferers, nine of 10 rely on prescription drugs. Many headache sufferers say they try relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, apply an ice pack to their heads or take a hot bath or shower. Talking about it can help, too, the respondents claim.


For years, Americans have been told about the importance of reducing dietary fat. How does one determine what foods contain more fat than others? Here are some comparisons that surprise most people, says Kay Stanfill, a dietitian at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City: Salted peanuts have more fat than potato chips. Margarine and butter have the same amount of fat. Croissants have more fat than sweet rolls. Chicken with skin is fattier than a steak or a hamburger. A "healthy" salad, when loaded with cheese, croutons and dressing, has more fat than a quarter-pound hamburger.


Smoking cigarettes damages more than the lungs. Nicotine can harm the pancreas as well, according to University of Southern California researchers. "After alcoholism, smoking is the second leading factor associated with chronic pancreatitis in the United States," says Dr. Jorge E. Valenzuela, the study's principal investigator and a USC professor of medicine. "But smoking's effect on the pancreas is not well understood." Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, the gland that lies behind the stomach, produces digestive enzymes and secretes insulin.


Nobody likes cockroaches. But people who suffer from asthma should really avoid them, because such people are likely to be allergic to the critters. University of Kentucky researchers found that cockroach allergens caused attacks in about 60% of people with asthma.


Keeping the eyes closed for a full two minutes after applying eyedrops may enhance the action of the medication and reduce side effects. Every time you blink, you can wash away the medication too soon, says Dr. William L. White, a San Antonio ophthalmologist who discovered the value of shut-eye. Keeping the eyes closed longer than two minutes isn't necessary.


Excessive lighting in the office and at home can have harmful effects, says Sharon Nelson, a University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researcher and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy. "For a person who is easily stimulated or hyperactive, modern-day intense lighting can cause a problem." Fluorescent lights are more stimulating, she says, than old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Too-bright lights can "key up" hyperactive children and can aggravate sleep deprivation. Don't turn off the lights, cautions Nelson. Just turn down the candlepower.


Five basic steps to weight control: Eat regular meals. Plan your snacks. Choose low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Limit lean meat or meat alternatives to a five- or seven-ounce serving a day. Get aerobic exercise at least every other day. This is advice from the Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter.


People who suffer from chronic pain function better and feel less anger if they get group training in pain management, says Karen Subramanian, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Southern California, who compared patients who underwent such training with another group that did not. The improved functioning and mood were evident six months later. "Since arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other conditions that cause chronic pain frequently grow worse with time, it's important for people to cope with their pain while carrying on with their lives," Subramanian says. Her pain-management program included relaxation and cognitive skills and assertiveness training. Subramanian notes that patients often need to learn to say no and to ask for what they need.


Vaccinations against measles, rubella and mumps can reduce the risk of pneumonia; the latter can develop as a complication of these diseases, notes the Scripps Clinic Personal Health Letter.


If you're shopping for a toothbrush and want to be different, don't choose blue. That's the color picked most often, cites a recent report in the California Dental Assn. Journal. Researchers don't know why.

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