COMMENT:


According to several studies, the first feature that people notice about another person is their smile and, secondly, their eyes. So an attractive smile is important for first positive impressions, especially when it comes to a first meeting or job interview.

Smiling actually offers more benefits than you may have realised. There are myriad benefits you can achieve from smiling. These include boosting your immune system, relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins as well as making you look friendlier.

However, some Kiwis are finding it difficult to smile because of rotten teeth from dental decay. The 2009 Oral Health Survey found dental decay was the most prevalent chronic - and irreversible - disease in the country.

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I have recently relocated from London to work in Te Puke and have found most of the dental problems experienced by children and adults could be prevented if only they were given oral health and diet advice.

People still think losing teeth is an inevitable part of life. However, I believe we can keep our teeth for life if we look after them.

Tooth decay happens when bacteria that live in our mouth feed on sugary foods and release acids that start causing cavities on the teeth's surfaces.

Most people do not feel any pain until the decay becomes so bad it reaches the nerve of the tooth. That will then mean either an extraction or root canal treatment to save the tooth.

This is what happens to the acidity (pH) in our mouth after having a sugary drink or food. Snacking or having sugary drinks keeps your mouth acidic for longer, consequently, causing dental decay.
This is what happens to the acidity (pH) in our mouth after having a sugary drink or food. Snacking or having sugary drinks keeps your mouth acidic for longer, consequently, causing dental decay.

Another, mostly preventable, dental problem I encounter is gum disease, which again, is usually painless. The gums are the foundation for the teeth and if not looked after, the teeth start to become loose and could fall out or get abscesses and need extraction.

Gingivitis (gum swelling) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). However, not all gingivitis progresses to gum disease.

In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up causing the gums to become swollen and to easily bleed spontaneously or during brushing.

Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly fixed in the jawbone. No irreversible bone or other tissue damage has happened at this stage.

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Plaque build-up is the primary cause of gingivitis. However, other factors can contribute to periodontitis such as smoking, diabetes, certain medications and a family history.

The most important tips to prevent gum problems are:
• Brushing and flossing to prevent plaque build-up.
• If you smoke, stop smoking.
• Visit a dental hygienist between 6 to 12 months for a deep cleanse as there is only so much we can do with our tooth brushing.

Throughout my career as a dentist, I have noticed many people put off visiting the dentist as it is perceived as expensive. However, yearly check-ups for most people are a cost-effective option, as it will help prevent bigger problems, which always end up needing more treatment and cost more longer term.

See it as servicing your teeth like you service your car every year. There may be nothing wrong, but it will help to prevent more expensive issues in the future.

Top left: No obvious cavity, but decay was found on an x-ray. Top right: decay after access. Bottom right: After decayremoved. Bottom left: Tooth restored with a tooth-coloured filling.
Top left: No obvious cavity, but decay was found on an x-ray. Top right: decay after access. Bottom right: After decayremoved. Bottom left: Tooth restored with a tooth-coloured filling.

The bottom line for smiles that are healthy and attractive comes down to how well we look after our teeth and gums. Even a little change in your habit can go a long way to keeping your smile bright and healthy.

Dental decay is completely preventable by following simple tips:
1. Always brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste for 2 minutes.
2. Avoid sugar in tea or coffee - if you need to, use a sweetener instead.
3. Avoid starchy snacks as well as sugary foods and drinks between meals.
4. The best snacks for teeth are cheese and crackers or vegetables such as carrot sticks.
5. If you do snack - rinse your mouth straight after with a fluoride mouthwash.


Dr José Marinho BSc (Hons) BDS has been practising for eight years and has a special interest in restorative and cosmetic dentistry. He was a finalist at the Dentistry Awards for Best Young Dentist in 2018. He now works at Lumino Bridgens in Te Puke.