Brush your way to health

By: Ashley Newport Aug 16, 2010

Putting off a trip to the dentist? You could be damaging your health

Nobody likes the dentist. Some people get nervous when they hear the drills, others panic at the sight of sharp, stainless steel instruments. While it’s perfectly normal to be apprehensive about any medical procedure, it’s crucial to remember that a dental check-up is, more often than not, a painless exercise in disease prevention.
Although a few minutes in the dentist’s chair can be uncomfortable for anyone who’s nervous about having their teeth picked, scraped and vigorously flossed, it’s more uncomfortable for people suffering from preventable cavities and gingivitis. Fortunately, a little extra one-on-one time with your teeth can make dentist appointments much easier.

According to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA), gingivitis begins when plaque and tartar build up around the gums and form tiny pockets of infection. If left untreated, these can evolve into full-blown gum disease, which can result in tooth loss. Fortunately, taking a pro-active approach to your oral health can spare you the psychological and financial costs of missing teeth.

You can take the first step towards prevention in your own bathroom. All it takes is regular brushing and flossing. The CDA recommends brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing at least once. Take extra care to make sure you gently brush the areas where your teeth meet your gums, and thread floss between each and every tooth.

Is it gum disease?

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to detect the early stage of gum disease on your own. To safeguard those pearly whites, you’ll need to see your dentist about twice a year (though your dentist may advise you to visit more or less often, depending on your overall oral health). A dentist will be able to detect the early signs of gum disease and devise a treatment plan to prevent further damage. If serious or advanced disease is found, you may be referred to a periodontist – a specialist who is trained to manage more serious symptoms.

Another check-up bonus? Potential early oral cancer detection.

“Oral cancer is fairly predominant,” says dentist Dr. Samir Patel. “Dentists can be the first-line professionals detecting it.”

Oral cancer can strike those who don’t smoke or drink heavily, so it’s important to let an oral health specialist examine your mouth for any suspicious lumps, ridges and lesions that may require further investigation. Should your dentist discover something unusual, he or she can put you in touch with a specialist for further testing – or begin some testing in the office.

“New technologies are helping dentists become more accurate [at identifying suspicious areas] and better at diagnosing,” says Dr. Patel.

Ashley Newport is a freelance journalist based in Toronto – well, in a city a little west of Toronto. She’s been writing for two years about almost everything. Her favourite topics include politics, society, entertainment, food and health. She loves to find out new things about nutrition, because she knows how important it is to know more about the health benefits of the foods you love. Her work can be found in Foodservice and Hospitality Magazine and a small Oakville community online paper located somewhere in cyberspace (Google Ashley to find it!).