Thursday January 3,
Dear Dr. Mady: One of my New Years resolutions is to start taking care of my teeth and going to the dentist because I don’t want to end up losing my teeth later on. My parents and grandparents lost their teeth at a young age. Do you have any tips for me and what can I do to make my teeth last? —Tammy in Windsor
Dear Tammy: If you travel back in time to when your grandparents were the age that you are now, most likely one or both of them were even wearing dentures at that time. Growing up, you probably even thought that was the way it was supposed to be and it sounds like you are thinking that you could reach that point if you don’t do something about it. Genetics play a huge role in all health issues, but you can fight genetics, and the New Year is a great time to begin the battle that should last you the rest of your life.
The fact is that teeth can be maintained for a lifetime, as long as they are properly cared for. This is true even if genetics plays a role in your dental health. The process can be as simple as following a healthy diet, practising proper oral hygiene, accessing fluoride-related preventative products and making regular visits to your dentist and hygienist.
Dentistry has changed significantly since our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ day when dental treatment was comprised of two main modalities. Those options were “ fill or pull”. The main focus now is prevention and maintenance. Today we as dental practitioners focus not on the teeth alone, like in the past, but indirectly on everything related to the soft and hard tissues of the head and neck and to your overall health.
Before fluoride was available, dentists spent such large amounts of time filling and extracting teeth that there was no time for anything else. Patients didn’t even know the difference due to ignorance and indifference as a result of that lack of knowledge. Flouride that was not available in water systems (and still isn’t in some areas) decades ago is now assisting us tremendously with respect to prevention and allowing dentists everywhere to spend time educating their patients and offering services that were never even heard of years ago. Services like cosmetic dentistry, dental implants and periodontal (gum disease) treatment are only a few of the ones I am referring to. Subsequently there are fewer individuals losing teeth to gum disease and therefore less wearing dentures.
As dentist’s we can’t take all the credit. A more knowledgeable public, one who understands the importance of good old brushing and flossing is the main contributing factor. As low-tech as this may sound, these oral hygiene practices are still the best method of prevention.
As far as what you can start doing now right at home and after you see your dentist, begin by making sure that you always brush at least twice a day, after breakfast and before bed preferably. When buying a toothbrush, always purchase a soft or ultra-soft bristle type and direct the brush at a forty-five degree angle placing the bristles inside the cuff of the gum where it joins the tooth. Without too much force gently brush back and forth rolling up and out. Sometimes a circular scrub technique on the gums and teeth is great and does not promote toothbrush abrasion on the fronts of the teeth. It is important to remember that the brush should do the work, not your hand and arm. What I mean is that you should not use much pressure when brushing because if you do, even a soft bristle brush can cause destruction to your teeth. This can lead to sensitivity and costly dental treatment later on.
Brushing can remove plaque from three out of five surfaces of teeth, but proper flossing can clean the other two surfaces interproximally (in between teeth and under the gums). Purchase a type that feels most comfortable to you, whether waxed or unwaxed, flavoured or not. Place it between your teeth and loop in slightly against the tooth being flossed and slide it up and down against the side and just below the gumline to remove plaque. Don’t use too much pressure when flossing also because you can injure your gingiva and cause bleeding and even pain. If you are new at flossing, some bleeding for the first little while is not abnormal.
Ask your dentist or hygienist about rubber-tipping to stimulate the gingiva and about other methods of oral hygiene and irrigation. There are also many cosmetic options for healthy teeth, including tooth whitening that can make you look and feel better about your smile. The fact is that teeth can last a lifetime, as long as they are properly maintained. Start the year out right with your dental and oral health.
Questions for Dr. Mady can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and more information is available at www.askthedentist.ca
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The
Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS
member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of
each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask
The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A