3. Teeth For Life

Questions :

3. Teeth For Life

Contributed by:

Prof. Dr. Ishak Abdul Razak

Dept. of Community Dentistry University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur


The two most common diseases affecting mankind are dental caries (dental decay) and periodontal disease (gum disease). Often if left untreated both may lead to a common endpoint namely the loss of the affected teeth. However, your teeth and your children's teeth are irreplaceable. If cared for they can last a lifetime. If neglected the pain, the inconvenience and cost of restoring them to original health and function can be very great, if indeed not impossible. Hence good oral health-keeping your teeth and gums working and looking the best - is desirable and achievable throughout your lifetime. To maintain good oral health, you need the right combination of professional and personal care and to be successful in the prevention of dental decay and gum disease, there must not only be combined but also continuous effort by both the dentist and the public.

There are four essential steps

which you can take to achieve good oral health :

  • Maintain good oral hygiene, that is brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day to make sure you remove dirt and bacteria that sticks on to your tooth surface. In addition, floss your teeth often.
  • Use a fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against dental decay.
  • Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals to reduce the chances of dental decay.
  • visit your dentist at least once a year so that any decay problems can be detected early.

Maintaining good oral hygiene

Regular, thorough toothbrushing is a very important step in preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Brushing removes the bacteria and food debris (they form what dentist called dental plaque) which promote tooth decay and can cause gum disease. Ideally, you should brush after eating. Thorough brushing twice a day is usually recommended and always before going to bed. It is necessary to ensure that you brush every chewing surface, the cheek side, and the tongue side. Do not rush your brushing. A thorough brushing should take at least two to three minutes. Try timing yourself.

It is not possible for the toothbrush to reach some of the inaccessible areas of the tooth. For example, the bristles of the brush will not be able to reach the areas between two adjacent teeth. This usually represent areas when there are most accumulation of food debris and bacteria which are nicely sheltered beneath the contact area of the teeth. These areas can be adequately cleaned by using about 12-18 inches of floss wrapped around your middle fingers and leaving about two inches to work with. Gently scrape the side of each tooth away from the gum, and don't forget the back surface of your last tooth.


Use a fluoridated toothpaste

It is commonly assumed that dental decay can be reduced by removing plaque and it would be expected that regular toothbrushing, by removing plaque, would reduce dental caries. However, toothbrushing by itself has only a small effect on dental decay, whereas fluoride toothpaste has a noticeable effect. The value of toothbrushing in the fight against dental decay is, therefore largely as an agent for applying a fluoride toothpaste to the surfaces. Fluoride is a natural mineral found in water and foods and also added to most water supplies. Fluoride has been proven to help strengthen tooth enamel, and make it more resistant to decay. However the problem caused directly by plaque is gum disease and toothbrushing is very important for preventing gum disease. Always check that your toothpaste contain fluoride.

Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals

Each time sugar is put in the mouth, it is broken down by bacteria into acid, which then attacks the tooth surface. If repeated often enough these individual attacks eventually result in the chemical breakdown of the tooth. The most effective means of reducing dental decay is to reduce the number of times sugar is eaten, and lengthen the time between snacks and meals. Eating sugar with main meals is not as damaging as eating in between meals because it reduces the number of times in a day that teeth are subjected to acid attack. Thus the main aim in sugar control for the prevention of decay is to limit the consumption of food and drink containing sugar to meal times. If there is an urge to eat between meal it is advisable to consume sugar free alternatives such as fruits, crisps, sandwiches and nuts. Beware of hidden sugar!

Visit your dentist

Next to brushing, flossing and reducing the amount and frequency of sugar consumption, a regular check-up is an important step you can take towards maintaining your oral health. Regular check-ups are not just about cavities and they are not just about kids. They are not just about when you have pain either. a regular check-up takes little time, does not cost a lot, and goes a long way towards preventing dental problems before they become serious. Generally, it is a good idea to have a check-up every year. But depending on a number of factors - existing dental problems, the likelihood of new problems, the effectiveness of your personal care programme, your rate of tartar build-up and so on, your dentist may suggest that you visit more or less often.

It's normal to feel a bit anxious when you visit the dentist. But these days, dental techniques are by and large, painless. Dentists are also a lot more friendlier too. They are trained to help relieve your discomfort. If you are all anxious, talk to your dentist. They understand how you feel, and they can help.

So remember these four essential steps and you are well on your way towards achieving a healthy and functional set of natural teeth for life.


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