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Questions Answered: Planned Maintenance

By Dr Joanne Lam

You’d never let your car go for months or years without regular check-ups and servicing, would you? Of course not – its performance would suff er, and in time it would break down completely. It’s the same with teeth: maintenance is everything. (Or, as one wit put it, ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.) Verne Maree spoke with DR JOANNE LAM, who feels strongly about the importance of oral hygiene.

Even more important than regular check-ups is your twice-daily dental routine in front of the bathroom mirror. Most people do at least brush their teeth in the morning, if only to get rid of stale breath.

However, one in four adults – you know who you are! – admit they don’t brush twice a day; that’s according to the UK’s National Smile Month. They really should, and that’s because the ever-present bacteria in the mouth produce acid throughout the day – and more so while you’re eating. Getting rid of this acidic film at least twice in every 24-hour period will help prevent it eating into the enamel and causing cavities. It’s never OK to fall into bed without brushing.

Our teeth have many functions. “We need our teeth not only for chewing,” says Dr Lam, “but also for speech and overall wellbeing. And I believe that once a tooth is lost, there is no like-for-like replacement.”

You should always spend a full two minutes brushing your teeth and gums, every morning and every night. “It’s also important to clean your tongue,” she adds, “as the tongue holds the largest number of bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria produce sulphur-containing compounds, which are a major cause of bad breath.”

The Flossing Debate

How about flossing? On a personal note, I must admit that it’s only been two years since I started flossing every single night. I wasn’t alone. Less than a quarter of adults use dental floss regularly – and one in three people have never flossed their teeth. I’d just had some shiny new crowns fitted, so this worthy resolution was partly to protect the hefty investment. (It helped that my now better-aligned teeth had become easier to floss.)

Around August last year, widespread confusion was sown by a news story claiming that the benefits of flossing had yet to be conclusively proven. As Dr Lam points out, the British Society of Periodontology was quick to issue a press release explaining that daily cleaning between the teeth – be it with floss or an interdental brush – is essential for treating and preventing gum disease. Its American counterpart did the same. “Here at FDC Dental Group, we strongly promote flossing as part of routine oral hygiene,” she says.

Still not sure? If you’re a daily flosser, try not flossing for a week, and then giving it a go – the bad smell should convince you!

Scaling and Polishing

Unless it’s removed, plaque will become hard and stick to your teeth and roots. The germs will also damage the gum and the surrounding bone, resulting in shaky teeth which can cause pain and infection and may need to be extracted, says Dr Lam. “What’s more, dental decay can cause infection of the tooth, leading to toothache and the requirement for long, intricate treatments such as root canal treatment.”

Again on a personal note, my own family dentist works very closely with his resident oral health therapist (OHT); she generally gives me a thorough cleaning, including plaque removal, before I even see him.

Dr Lam agrees that this is a good thing: “We commonly advise cleaning (scaling and polishing) every six months to remove any hardened deposits of tartar from your teeth and beneath the gum,” she says. “It can also help remove any extrinsic staining and lift the colour of the teeth.” She notes, however, that as an OHT works within “the prescribed scope of dentistry”, a dentist must first prescribe cleaning to be done.

Removing all the plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums enables my dentist to provide a more thorough examination, she explains. What’s more, OHTs have been specially trained to help maintain gum health and provide routine gum treatment to patients.

“At FDC, our OHTs work closely alongside the dentists to provide a comprehensive treatment for our patients. They are all well versed in providing oral hygiene instruction, gum treatments and preventative treatments such as fluoride treatment or fissure sealants.”

Don’t Procrastinate

Good oral health is achievable, Dr Lam reminds us. Try to see your dentist every six months, and if you have any dental concerns, don’t put it off in the hope that the problem will go away of its own accord. It won’t, so make an appointment as soon as possible.

Even if you haven’t seen a dentist for years, making an appointment is the first step towards a healthy mouth. “Urge your friends and family to visit their dentist if they haven’t for a while. It’s never too late.”

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