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Don’t fear the dentist’s chair

A visit every six months can rid you of stained teeth, bad breath and even reveal if you are suffering from a systemic disease

The first thing you notice when you meet a person is the smile. A good smile shows better self-confidence, which in turn is proven to lead to better career options and better relationships. One of the most important contributors to a smile is oral health.

Your mouth is also a window to your general health. It is a proven fact that oral health will lead to a healthier gut which will improve body immunity – and if the holistic health of an individual improves, the gut microbiome which is the connector to the brain will convey the news of good health to the brain. So stick to whole foods, avoid processed foods, bottled and sweetened juices. Increase the intake of local seasonal foods and vegetables and fermented foods. All this will lead to a happy microbiome and in turn a very healthy body!

How it works is this: When we swallow food, good and bad bacteria travels through our oral cavity. If there are any harmful bacteria due to cavities or periodontal disease, this will lead to the bad bacteria traveling to the other organs. Studies show links between oral health and systemic disease. In fact, before a patient goes in for heart surgery, a pre-op requirement is a complete oral evaluation and clearance by a dentist. No wonder there are dental clinics in most of the leading cardiac hospitals.

But no need to wait for a health crisis. Everyone should visit a dentist for a regular checkup and prophylaxis (preventive treatment) every six months. Some of the first signs of other diseases in the body usually appear in the oral cavity first — like oral cancer and sleep disorders, to name just two.

These days, visits to dentists are not as painful as usually depicted in jokes and cartoons. Nor are multiple visits always necessary. For instance, dental implants with crowns can be done with a single visit, thanks to CAD-CAM technology and scanners which have reduced the waiting period. However, waiting for 3-6 months is still the ‘gold standard’, says Dr Amit Dania, who has learnt implant dentistry in Hong Kong and Europe.

There is another problem most people have without even knowing it: bad breath or halitosis. Dr Dania says, “The primary cause is faulty oral hygiene, gum disease, unclean dentures and dry mouth. There are medical reasons for bad breath too — like acid reflux, certain medications to treat diabetes and liver disease, sinus issues, chronic lung disease and tonsillitis.” Of course, garlic, onion and coffee along with smoking also contribute to bad odour from the mouth.

So what is the solution? He recommends maintaining good oral hygiene with brushing, flossing, using waterpik/jet and 6-monthly visits to dentists for professional cleaning.

Which brings us to another common query: Is there any way to whiten teeth naturally? How expensive is a professional cleaning at the doctor’s? Dr Dania says there are various methods to whiten teeth naturally but they might not be as effective as professional bleaching. To name just a few, they are: oil pulling, soda bicarbonate pastes, strawberry pastes, hydrogen peroxide rinses. A professional cleaning can cost Rs 1,000-3,000, depending on the amount of stains.

Any dentist — and your mother — will tell you brushing should be done twice a day. More importantly, use a soft bristle brush and ask your dentist the best way to brush. If brushing is done well and by the method directed by your dentist, it will not erode your enamel.

For those with old fillings, Dr Dania has a word of caution. It is now known that metal amalgam fillings contain mercury, a metal considered poisonous to the environment. However, it has not been conclusively proven whether the mercury in fillings harms the patients. “It is better to be safe than sorry — so nowadays, we have increasing number of patients willing to have their fillings changed to composite materials, which have high strength and higher polishability,” says Dr Dania.

Dr Reshma is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat