9. A Thousand Million Smiles
Professor Dr. Ishak Abdul Razak
Dept. of Community Dentistry University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur
Can you still remember the lyrics from that catchy jingle? "It's wonderful what a smile can do. You smile at me, I smile at you and so one smile makes two". It clearly sums up the value of the smile. Two smiles make four and more until you get a thousand million smiles.
Do you know that it takes 43 muscles to frown but only 17 to smile. That makes it 2.5 times easier to smile than to frown. But if you do not have a healthy beautiful smile, it will certainly be frowned upon by others around you. In additions to providing a beautiful smile, good oral health also ensures that you can eat well and greatly assist in your speech. Hence it is desirable to attain and maintain good oral health, that is keeping your teeth and gums working and looking the best. The dental profession is committed to creating beautiful healthy smiles by fixing your stained, broken down, worn and crooked teeth or even replace your missing teeth. But what can you do for yourself to ensure that your smile stays healthy and beautiful?
Good oral health is within your reach and the four essential steps you can take to achieve this include:
- Ensure good oral hygiene.
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste.
- Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals.
- Have regular dental check-ups.
Ensure good oral hygiene
The toothbrush and dental floss are your best tools for personal oral hygiene. Whilst many of us brush our teeth a few times everyday, not all of us brush because it is a health related activity. No matter what the reasons may be, the health related value of brushing is that it removes the bacteria (dental plaque) and food debris present on the tooth surfaces which promote tooth decay and can cause gum disease. For brushing to be effective, it should be carried out regularly and thoroughly. Ideally, you should brush after eating. Thorough brushing twice a day is usually recommended. Always brush before you go to bed otherwise the bacteria will convert whatever food remnants on your teeth into acid which will then erode your teeth whilst you sleep. Furthermore your salivary flow will reduce during sleep which would then diminish its cleansing and protective effect. Ensure that you brush every surface of every tooth. Do not rush your brushing. A thorough brushing should take at least two to three minutes. Try timing yourself.
Do not rely only on your toothbrush to reach all areas of the tooth. Those difficult to reach areas - the areas between two adjacent teeth especially beneath the contact points and also the back surface of your last teeth are not accessible by the bristle of your brush. The areas act as shelters to the accumulation of food debris and plaque. However, a dental floss (which is essentially a dental thread) can be used to do the job quite adequately by gently scraping the side of each tooth.
Use a fluoridated toothpaste
It has been found that toothbrushing on its own has only a negligible effect on the prevention of dental caries. However, its value in the prevention of decay lies in the fact that it acts as an instrument to deliver fluoride from the fluoridated toothpaste onto the surfaces of the teeth. Fluoride is a natural mineral found in water and foods and it is also added to most mater supplies. Fluoride has been proven to help strengthen tooth enamel, the outer covering of the tooth and make it more resistant to decay. Always check that your toothpaste contain fluoride. Most of the toothpaste in the Malaysian market contains fluoride. Children however should be supervised in their brushing using fluoridated paste. It should be remembered however that the problem caused directly by plaque is gum disease and toothbrushing is very important for preventing gum disease.
Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals
Dental decay is caused by the action of acid on the tooth surface. But where does this acid come from? Each time you eat sugar, it is broken down by bacteria into acid which then attacks the tooth surface. If repeated often enough these attacks will eventually result in the chemical breakdown of the toot. In the initial stages, the tooth can undergo repair. However repeated and prolonged attack can lead to the formation of a cavity. Therefore the most effective means of reducing dental decay is so refrain from eating sugar totally. However this is not practical as sugar is very much a part of our diet and culture. The alternative would be to eat sugar sensibly by limiting the number of times sugar is eaten (less acid is produced) and lengthening the time between snacks and meals (allows the initial destruction to heal). Eating sugar with main meals is not as damaging as eating it between meals because it reduces the number of times in a day that teeth are subjected to acid attack. Thus the main aim is sugar control for the prevention of decay is to limit the consumption of food and drink containing sugar to meal times. Remember, sugar can also cause a number of other diseases and can also contribute to obesity. If you are in the habit if munching between meals, it is advisable to consume sugar free alternatives such as fruits, crisps, sandwiches and nuts. Sugar comes in many forms as in table sugars which are visible but many sugars are hidden as in processed foods and drinks.
Regular dental check-ups
The mere mention of the dentist may conjure images of a man in a white coat inflicting a lot of pain to his patients. However, a regular check-up is an important step you can take, next to brushing, flossing and avoiding sugary foods, towards maintaining your oral health. You need not visit the dentist only when you are in pain or having a cavity. A regular check-up takes little time, does not cost a lot, and goes a Iong way towards preventing dental problems and towards spotting problems when they exist before they become serious. Generally, it is a good idea to have a check-up every year. However your dentist will be able to advise you as to whether you need to visit more or less often depending on your existing dental problems, the likelihood of new problems developing, the effectiveness of your personal care programme, your rate of tartar build-up, and so on.
Whilst you may feel a bit nervous (it is quite natural), visiting the dentist need not be an unpleasant experience. Recent developments in dental materials and technology as well as current training emphasis among dentists which is consumer friendly have made dental visits, by and large, painless and somewhat uneventful. Dentists are also a lot more understanding, less authoritarian, friendlier and is your partner in maintaining your oral health. They are trained to help relieve your discomfort and make your dental visits more pleasant and comfortable. If you are all anxious, talk to your dentist. They understand how you feel, and they can help.
Oral health begins with you. So remember these four essentials steps and start doing them right away. And you have initiated the first move towards creating that thousand million healthy and beautiful smiles. Your smile may only last a moment but the memory of it may last forever.
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