While we all might want a perfect pearly-white toothy smile, the thought of visiting a dentist can grip many of us with intense fear.
I was one of them and the mere mention of the dentist still fills my older brother with dread.
My fear of dentists started at a very early age and I still remember vividly how terrified I was each time I opened the creaking front gate, to walk down the narrow path into his dental surgery, which was in a converted house in Mona Vale.
I can easily relate to the depiction of the evil, pain-inducing dentist Dr Orin Scrivello in the fabulous stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, brilliantly portrayed in the film version by Bill Murray. And can’t help wondering whether his character was modelled on my first dentist, who seemed to have the philosophy of ‘when in doubt, take it out’ with little regard for the pain he would inflict in the process.
I had to see my first dentist, let’s just call him Dr Orin, far too many times for my liking when I was little.
My front teeth went behind my bottom teeth when I closed my mouth and Dr Orin wanted me to have braces but Mum refused. Instead, I had to have a plate cemented to my bottom teeth and visit him after school every week for what seemed like most of second class at primary school.
I’ll be eternally grateful to Mum for being so meticulous about my teeth and I have never taken for granted all the compliments I’ve received about them and my smile ever since. Although now that I’m a lot older, it makes me laugh when occasionally the compliment is followed by a slight sting when I’m praised for my beautiful teeth then asked, “Are they yours?”.
But a visit to your dentist isn’t just about having straight teeth or stopping decay; it’s actually imperative to see the dentist regularly (every 6 to 12 months) because they can often detect health issues much earlier than your doctor, simply from the state of your gums.
This rang true for a close mate of mine, Chris, when I was hosting my national TV show SUSIE. One of the makeovers we were doing for the show included Chris getting some cosmetic work done on her teeth.
However, during her initial visit to a very talented and renowned cosmetic dentist, it didn’t take him long to discover a serious underlying health issue and immediately recommended she seek urgent medical attention.
She did, and it turns out Chris had a very rare condition called Amyloidosis. Better Health defines Amyloidosis is an umbrella term that describes diseases caused by abnormal deposits of the protein amyloid in any tissue or organ of the body including the heart, kidneys and liver.
Chris’ doctor believes, her early diagnosis of this terminal illness, was a contributing factor to his original 18-month prognosis becoming eight more years of living for her.
That story wasn’t meant to alarm you, but simply to alert you of the importance of prevention and detection through regular dental check-ups.
Rather than only going to the dentist when you have a toothache or other mouth issues; regular dental appointments will help maintain your teeth, gums and overall health at their optimum level.
I have visited many dentists, with varying degrees of success, over the subsequent decades, since my primary school dental nightmares until almost twenty years ago when I found a fantastic dentist, who is gentle and will do everything to preserve my teeth. I even convinced my brother to go to him, where he’s currently undergoing a lengthy procedure over several appointments. I was pleased to see that it didn’t take him long to also build confidence in my dentist and he’s even eager for his next appointment.
Home Dental Care
- Brushing your teeth and flossing
There are a few simple things we can do regularly at home to look after our teeth, to help reduce the risk of tooth and gum decay and make our regular dental check-ups and regular professional teeth cleaning and plague removal a breeze.
In addition to us cleaning our teeth and tongue twice a day with a soft toothbrush, regular flossing is also recommended to help reduce the bacteria on our teeth that causes a build-up of plaque.
According to a survey by the Australian Dental Association, more than half of Australians say they follow their dentist’s recommendation to brush their teeth twice a day, but only 17 percent confirmed they flossed regularly.
Toothbrushes are limited in where they can reach so brushing your teeth alone isn’t enough to remove the plaque and leftover food from between your teeth.
There are various products on the market for flossing such as tape, picks, interdental brushes and electric flossers with jets of water that clean between the teeth. It’s not recommended you use wooden toothpicks or any sharp objects to clean between your teeth as you can easily damage your tooth’s enamel or your gums and soft mouth tissue that could lead to infections.
Don’t be alarmed and give up flossing if your gums bleed when you first start but if the bleeding continues once you’ve been flossing regularly, then you should seek advice from your dentist.
We’re often very conscious of how our breath smells especially for garlic lovers or if you drink strong smelling drinks like coffee and alcohol or if you smoke, but bad breath can also stem from poor dental hygiene and can often come directly from your gut.
I remember when a close mate of mine drew my attention to an unpleasant change in my breath, which is never easy to tell someone.
When I mentioned it to my GP, he immediately sent me away for a breath test for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which according to Health Direct, is a type of bacteria that can live in the lining of the stomach. H. pylori can cause stomach inflammation (gastritis) and more serious conditions such as stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. About 4 in 10 Australians aged over 60 have it, but many people won’t develop any symptoms or disease.
Sure enough, my breath test came back positive for H. pylori and I was able to get rid of it easily after a course of treatment from my doctor.
Health Direct recommends we avoid sugary and acidic food and drink to prevent tooth decay and acid wear. A healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamins can help to re-mineralise tooth enamel.
Drinking tap water containing fluoride will not only help us stay hydrated but it can also protect our teeth.
If you’re feeling self-conscious about the state of your teeth there are lots of procedures dentists can undertake to improve them such as crowns, veneers, implants and dentures but these can be very costly and often out of reach for most people.
I have always felt that regular dental check-ups and basic dental treatments should be covered under Medicare, which would dramatically improve the overall health of all Australians and in the long run, save the Government an enormous amount of money on other more expensive health care treatments that would no longer be necessary.
Unfortunately, I can’t see that happening anytime soon, so the onus remains on each and every one of us to make oral hygiene and dental care a top priority and give us another reason to smile.
Stay strong and safe…cheers susie
Susie Elelman AM
Author, TV & Radio Broadcaster