We take our health for granted and it’s not until something goes wrong that we realise it’s importance. How many times per day do we chew? Talk? Smile? If you have a sore mouth or a wobbly tooth, you’ll sure be aware of every movement. So why do we not heed the advice, and continue to neglect our health until it’s too late and the damage is done? Is it a case of ‘she’ll be right’ or ‘that won’t happen to me’? Some people just give up, saying ‘it’s in the family – there’s nothing I can do’.
Most dental diseases are completely preventable (I’ll make an exception for some genetic conditions and those wisdom teeth that decided to come in lying down) and caused by one thing.
Did you know you are more bacteria than human? They estimate we are made up of 30 trillion human cells, and 39 trillion bacteria cells (I don’t know who had the unfortunate job of counting those). Your mouth is no different – in there it is estimated you have 6 billion bacterial cells and these can be from up to 200 different species.
Some of these species are ‘good bacteria’ and we need them. Some of them are ‘bad bacteria’ and cause tooth decay. Some cause gum disease. Some can even be linked to certain cancers.
Certain conditions make different types of bacteria more likely to thrive. For example, bacteria love sugar. And those tooth-decay causing bacteria are no different. The more sugar you consume, the more the bacteria consume and multiplies. That ‘furry feeling’ you get on your teeth? That’s a nice slimy layer of bacteria. The bacteria devour your sugar and produce acid as a waste product. This acid destroys your tooth.
Wobbly teeth should only be for kids.
Gum disease is also caused by bacteria. Those bacterial cells irritate our gums – our body recognises them as a foreign object and starts trying to defend itself. Loads of cells rush to the area, and this is what causes inflammation – your gums may swell and bleed when touched. However, some people’s immune systems take it too far, and the body basically starts the process of trying to get rid of this foreign object and anything else in the way. When gum disease progresses to what we call periodontal disease – the connections between the tooth and the gum start to get destroyed, including the bone around the tooth. The tooth will start to get loose, and over time, when treatment is not sought, the tooth will become so loose it can fall out. Most people have usually found a dentist before this, however often it is too late and nothing can be done, but remove the tooth. If only they had done something earlier….
To recap: we have trillions of bacteria cells. Some good, some bad. Some cause disease and love to eat sugar. Their by-products dissolve our teeth, and they cause inflammation in our gums. What can we do about it?
- Consume less sugar (Diet)
- Try and remove these bacteria (Brushing and Flossing)
- Make the tooth more resistant to the acid (Fluoride)
- Get our gums checked (see the Dentist regularly)
Dr Mishari and Sylvia giving advice to a patient
at his check-up appointment.
This is why these are the 4 key messages you will hear your dentist repeat over and over, and why they were the focus of Dental Health Week (6th-12th August 2018). They are just so important.
But why does all this matter? Obviously, we need our teeth for chewing. A beautiful smile makes us feel more confident. Our teeth help us speak. If still the thought of losing your teeth and having false ones doesn’t bother you, what about the health of the rest of your body? All that ‘bad’ bacteria and inflammation in your mouth can’t be good for you.
First of all, having all that infection and inflammation in your head, means it’s close to two pretty important structures – your airway and your brain. You don’t want either of those being compromised.
Secondly, through inhaling, swallowing and the blood-stream, those bacteria can travel. Some diseases linked to poor oral health include:
- Disease of the heart and blood vessels
- Lung disease
- Kidney disease
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes
- Stomach ulcers
- Oral cancers
- Aspiration pneumonia in the elderly
If you want to read more on these, there is a great article here by Dental Health Services Victoria.
Over the coming weeks we’ll delve deeper into those 4 key messages, first focusing on diet. Now go brush and floss – your health depends on it!