For such a modern nation, we don’t have much to boast about when it comes to. Thirty-one per cent of the adult population have no teeth, 75 per cent of all children have active dental decay and 99 per cent of young people have gingivitis (gum disease).
The sad thing about these statistics is that they can, and should, be zero per cent in every case. Nobody should ever have a filling again or an extraction; the makers of false teeth should go out of business.
The cause of both caries (tooth decay) and gingivitis is ‘plaque’ — a sticky film made up of food and saliva deposits and harmful bacteria which adheres to the surface enamel area of the teeth.
Sugar is particularly active in helping to form plaque and this is the main reason why allexperts advise parents to watch the amount of sweets, cakes and biscuits their children eat (also important for skin and weight problems later) and always to encourage them to brush their teeth afterwards.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
There are three major things that should all be done together to help make teeth less vulnerable to attack. They are:
(1) Correct brushing;
(2) Use of fluoride;
(3) Regular visits to the dentist.
Correct brushing This must start with having the right toothbrush. Always make sure that everyone in the family has his own toothbrush, and that it’s changed about four times a year. A toothbrush with broken or bent filaments simply won’t do the cleaning job.
A few years ago, the fashion was for hard bristles that would really clean thoroughly. Nowadays, it’s recognized that a too-hard bristle can scratch and damage tooth enamel. The ideal brush should have a small head that fits comfortably into the mouth, with multi-tufted nylon filaments trimmed flat. They should also be flexible. Soft/medium bristles are quite adequate in removing food particles, plaque, etc. Using dental floss is an excellent way of cleaning between teeth.
Use of fluoride Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral which has been conclusively proved to substantially fortify teeth against plaque. It can be taken in a variety of forms — the most common is in toothpaste. However, you can also take fluoride tablets (of particular benefit for pregnant women to help both their own and their unborn babies’ teeth); it can come in the water supply (your area water authority will tell you if your water contains it); and your dentist can make an application of fluoride directly on to the teeth — which brings us on to the next point.
Regular visits to the dentist
Everyone should visit their dentist at least twice a year, even if nothing seems to be wrong. Your dentist can detect early warning signs of damage; he can also tell if teeth
are being looked after correctly and will advise on correct brushing. He will also show you and your children how to use dental floss properly — and flossing is an important part in the cleaning process as it removes food and other particles from crevices that your toothbrush can’t penetrate efficiently. So don’t put off the evil day until it becomes one.
WHY TAKE ALL THIS TROUBLE?
If you could cut a tooth in half lengthwise, you’d See that there are five different sections. The outer layer is the one we see — hard white enamel. This encases the whole tooth above the gum line. Under the enamel is soft dentine, which in turn contains the pulp cavity with the nerve and blood supply. Cementum covers the root below the gum surface. The germs in plaque convert its sugar content to acid, which eats away at the enamel. Once that has been penetrated, the dentine is easily attacked and unless a filling is made, the whole tooth can rot away. This is ‘caries’.
The same plaque can also attack the gums and, while a rotting tooth is painful, apart from the give-away initial bleeding, this is a painless process. Then the supporting structure of the tooth is attacked, and the tooth will eventually fall out or will have to be extracted. This is ‘gingivitis’.
Because plaque takes about 24 hours to develop, this whole process can be controllable. In bad cases, plaque can be detected as a yellowy film and the affected teeth feel rough when you run a tongue over them. But your teeth don’t have to reach this stage to be in danger from plaque.
THE FIGHT AGAINST PLAQUE
The first step in the battle against plaque is to establish a regular brushing routine — first thing every morning and last thing every night. Involve your children from an early age, and make it an amusing occasion. Use an egg-timer — three minutes is the correct length of time — for them to time their brushing, and always make sure that they brush correctly. Here’s how:
1 First, brush the top teeth downwards from the gums to the tip.
2 Then brush lower teeth upwards.
3 and 4 Brush backs of all teeth from gums to tips.
5 Finally, brush biting surfaces backwards and forwards.
Remember, the generally accepted method of brushing from side to side (instead of upwards) isn’t very effective in removing plaque as the brush tends to skip the crevices where plaque is lurking, and it may also damage the gums. So always make sure that your children are brushing correctly from the very first. It could make a world of ditference as to whether or not t wear false teeth by the time they’re 30.
SPECIAL CARE FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE
The mother-to-be It’s an old myth that the foetus takes calcium from the mother’s teeth; however, this does reflect the all-too-sad fact that many pregnant women find their teeth particularly prone to decay during this time.
There are two main reasons for this: the first is that pregnancy does weaken the gum’s resistance to disease, and gingivitis will occur more readily if the gums aren’t kept free from plaque.
To brush your teeth correctly, follow the instructions given in the text on the left. You should also use dental floss in the crevices.
The second reason is more individual, and rests largely on how well the expectant mother looks after herself. It’s quite possible, particularly during the early, morning-sickness months, that she will skip the morning brush (anything she puts in her mouth will make her feel nauseous). If this is the case, she should use a child’s-size tooth-brush to help overcome the problem. Often, too, cravings mean that she’s eating far more sweets, cakes and so on than usual. In pregnancy, as at every other time, sugar is the main cause of plaque. Always brush teeth after eating sweets.
As an added precaution, the expectant mum can take fluoride tablets (as directed on the bottle) during the last three months of pregnancy. They will help fortify her teeth and those of her baby.
Baby’s milk teeth Many parents believe that, because milk teeth aren’t permanent, it doesn’t really matter if they’re lost a bit earlier than usual because of dental decay. This isn’t true, and every care should be taken to ensure that a baby’s milk teeth are as well looked after as his ‘grown-up’ ones.
Milk teeth give a growing guide to the permanent teeth beneath. If they’re lost prematurely, the secondary teeth can grow out crooked and, indeed, may be affected by the decay or abscess started in the milk tooth.
It’s also very important that children be taught good eating habits from the begin- ning — for their general health as well as for their teeth.
Parents can start the good work by properly cleaning the baby’s teeth right from the outset. As soon as they appear through the gum they are vulnerable to plaque attack, and should be regularly cleaned with a piece of gauze coated with fluoride toothpaste. As the baby gets older, you can progress to a properly-made child’s toothbrush. Mothers should also continue to take fluoride tablets and should give them to their babies, too.
Many of the medicines and anti-products for children contain some form of pleasant-tasting sweetener. It’s not always possible to avoid giving them to babies, but their teeth should always be cleaned afterwards. And when it comes to , they should be encouraged to bite on a teething ring or a hard, unsweetened rusk.
Children This is the time when they can be properly taught about oral hygiene — but it’s also the time when they’re not too bothered about their appearance, and the time when they find all kinds of sweet temptation at school!
Watching their parents brush their teeth regularly gives them a very good example to follow, as are regular visits to the dentist.
Something all children find fun to use are ‘disclosing’ tablets — harmless red tablets that stain the teeth where plaque is present. They show children exactly where they’re missing out when it comes to proper brushing, and makes their mouths look deliciously gruesome!
The teenage rebel. Teenagers are notorious for wanting to do things their own way, and for showing a very marked disinclination to follow any suggestions made by fuddy-duddy adults. Fortunately, though, they can be very vain and concerned about their appearance.
The best way to encourage them to brush their teeth regularly is not to tell them that it’s ‘good for them’, but to point out how unattractive bad breath and yellow teeth are — and do they really want to take out their teeth every night like granny does?
And because they are undergoing various hormonal changes, their gums are particularly low on resistance against infection. Unless they are cleaned thoroughly of plaque, gingivitis and the painful ulcerative gingivitis may develop. Bleeding gums are the first sign that this is occurring and very often people stop brushing because of the pain. It’s absolutely essential to carry on brushing — good and regular brushing is the very best method of removing the plaque.
Sweets, as ever, are the killers; they will cause overweight as well as rotten teeth — two reasons why the figure-conscious teenager should avoid all unnecessary sugar-containing foods.