Make time for your teeth

By Graham Anderson, the principal officer of Profmed

Dental care is one of the most often neglected aspects of healthcare, simply because people don’t like to go to the dentist and because looking after their teeth just never seems like a medical emergency. Make an effort to maintain your good dental health – it’s worth it.

Most adults remember the lessons that they were taught in school about how to look after their teeth, but very few actually implement them in their day-to-day dental hygiene. Here’s a refresher course on some of the basics:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times a day. Any more than this can damage your gums.
  • Don’t brush too hard. It is said that plaque sticks to your teeth like jam to a spoon – rinsing won’t remove it, but gentle brushing will.
  • Use only soft or medium-bristle toothbrushes.
  • Brush for at least two minutes – this is the amount of time you need to pay proper attention to all the teeth in your mouth.
  • Brush each tooth with small side-to-side or circular motions with the bristles tilted at a 45-degree angle towards the gums, then flick away from the gum towards the biting edge of the tooth. Then brush the biting surface of the molar with the bristles facing directly downwards.
  • Floss your teeth once a day, take your time and use a new section of the floss for each tooth space. Flossing is essential for healthy gums.
  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Visit your dentist for a check-up once a year, or visit sooner if you have a toothache or visible cavity or crack, if your gums hurt or bleed while brushing or flossing or if you develop persistent bad breath (not just after a night out with garlic pizza).
  • Visit your oral hygienist for a good teeth cleaning twice a year as well.

Although a cavity may seem like an insignificant problem that can be dealt with at a later or more convenient time, it’s actually very important to identify and treat tooth decay before further problems develop. In rare cases, secondary infections can even lead to a life-threatening infection, but even if things don’t go that far, cavities can be painful and disfiguring and cause changes in lifestyle until properly treated.

Good for your gums

One aspect of dental hygiene that you often hear about but very few people understand is gum care. Gum disease or periodontal disease is caused by the build-up of plaque in your mouth. If not properly removed, plaque builds up under your gums, forming a harder substance called tartar, which needs to be removed by a dentist or oral hygienist.

The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is when the gums become inflamed and red and may bleed. As long as plaque and tartar stays trapped, the worse the gingivitis gets and your body’s immune system attacks it. This can cause damage to the gum tissue as well as the bones in the jaw. As a result, the gums recede and plaque and tartar get trapped deeper in the gums.

Early gum disease can be treated with the removal of the tartar or, in more advanced cases, with medication to fight the tartar. In very advanced cases where there is extensive tissue or bone damage, surgery may be required.

Fortunately, gum disease is easy to prevent with most of the same steps that contribute to strong and healthy teeth – by making the mouth as inhospitable to plaque-forming bacteria as possible by brushing and flossing regularly. It’s also a good idea to rinse with mouthwash after every meal and to not smoke.

Never too early

Some parents think that because baby teeth or milk teeth are replaced with permanent teeth later in their child’s life, it’s not worth the effort of wrestling with a wriggling toddler to brush them. This couldn’t be further from the truth – aside from serving an aesthetic purpose, healthy baby teeth help your child to learn to speak and maintain the proper spacing for permanent teeth later.

Keep your baby’s mouth plaque-free with teeth wipes, and later with baby toothbrushes and a tiny bead of age-appropriate toothpaste. Even when your child is old enough to start brushing his or her own teeth, you should still follow up with a thorough brushing yourself.

Consult with your dentist about the best age to start taking your child for regular check-ups, then stick to the schedule.

Make the time

Nobody likes going to the dentist, but it’s a vital part of maintaining good oral and overall health. Plan and budget for your annual dentist and dental hygienist visits well in advance, and don’t shirk them when the time comes. If you find that you’re avoiding dental check-ups for financial reasons, consider upgrading your medical scheme option so that you have enough cover available for these vital visits to maintain your good health.