I live in Wisconsin. Drinking is part of the state culture. We laugh about it. We laugh about the brandy old-fashioned sweet drinks that label us as a cheesehead if we order one in New York. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Now, we know we shouldn’t drink too much. That “one for the road” mentality of the ’70s led to nearly 55,000 deaths a year back then, dropping to 35,000 today. That’s a decline of 20,000 despite having more cars on the road than ever. Safer cars plus more sober drivers — it all adds up.

OK, when you think of binge drinkers, who do you picture? Close your eyes and see them. College kids. Six-pack Joes and Janes after work. Am I right? But do you picture senior citizens?

The ones who finally retired from the work-a-day world don’t really have a binge drinking problem, do they? Well, think again because, yes, they do.

New data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, surveying more than 11,000 adults over age 65, found that about one in eight binge drink. That’s defined as five drinks for men or four for women in one sitting — maybe one ballgame, one cookout, one party. One place no matter where it is.

In 2005, the survey numbers showed that one in 10 people over age 65 were binge drinkers. That’s a 20% rise.

Next, let me add marijuana into the mix. As you may know, weed is legal in 11 states. From California to Colorado to Illinois to Massachusetts, marijuana is easy to get. Legally.

As you also may know, it’s been pretty easy in the past to get pot anywhere in the U.S., legal or not, for people in their 20s, but not necessarily in their 60s. The result of having more places with legalized marijuana has been a surge in pot use among seniors.

Surveys show that weed use among teens and 20-year-olds has not significantly increased. It’s the boomers who are smoking more weed.

So let’s do the math — more binge drinking and more pot use equals more senior accidents. Got it? Nearly one in four seniors has diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc. And when they get up from their chair, their bed, the couch, the pool, the hot tub, they are more likely to be dizzy, swoon, fall and break something.

Don’t get me wrong, binge drinkers in their 20s break things all the time. But they’re in their 20s — they heal faster.

Recommendations for seniors are to have no more than three drinks over a 24-hour period. I’m not recommending the three martini lunch of the ’70s, but three taken over time.

My spin: Binge or smoke dope, when you’re an older adult, it just might be the dumb, stupid thing to do. As you may often hear — and something I very much agree with — drink responsibly.

Dear Doc: I heard you talk about the importance of drinking fluoridated water to prevent tooth decay. You said folks on well water can get fluoride free from their public health department. Wrong. Some counties do, some don’t.

Thanks for talking about fluoride. Most families want it, but others don’t. They’re misinformed. Thanks for helping clear things up. — A.K., from rural Wisconsin

Dear A.K.: Thanks for the update. Kids and adults who drink fluoridated water have fewer cavities, need fewer fillings, are less likely to need a tooth yanked, and have less pain if they do get tooth decay.

Fluoride is a winner-take-all supplement. It keeps tooth enamel strong and solid. Too bad there are snake oil salesmen out there spreading lies about it. Some insurance plans cover it, some don’t. You can buy a year’s supply for about $30. Cheap!

When we eat sugar or any refined carbohydrate, the bacteria that are in our mouth pump out acid, which damages teeth by removing essential minerals. Fluoride re-mineralizes the tooth surface, preventing cavities. It’s magic. Stay well.

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This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.


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